Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pumpkin Milkshake Heaven

Last night was man movie night. It happens every once in a while--when a good man movie is out in theaters. Mr.W, along with my brother and another of their manly-man friends, went to see Beowulf.

So it was just me, the dogs and Thundercat, and the Food Network. You know THAT particular channel always gets my creative juices flowing.

I stil have a ton of hubbard squash puree just calling to me, "You can do it... experiment with me!" If you know anything about hubbard squash, it is that you can use it as a substitute for pumpkin.

And that led me to notice the tub of sugar-free vanilla ice cream in the freezer, right beside the squash. Eureka! A delicious pumpkin pie shake was born.

Pumpkin Pie Shake
serves 1

2 scoops vanilla ice cream (I used sugar free)
2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
2 ounces half n half, milk or skim milk (I used sugar free hazelnut flavored liquid creamer)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
dollop whipped cream (optional; can use sugar-free fat-free alternative)
freshly grated nutmeg

Combine ice cream, pumpkin puree, half n half and spices in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a serving glass and top with a dollop of whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg. Enjoy.

Wonderful, creamy, and packed with pumpkin pie flavors, this milkshake is just right for the holiday season. What a treat!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kitchen Talk

It's interesting to talk to different cooks all around the globe, and in my experience, the people with minimum-sized kitchens are the ones who cook at home and entertain the most!

In my early adulthood while living in small apartments with equally tiny kitchens I cooked dinners most nights of the week (for myself and husband) AND entertained in my home.

I remember one 2-room apartment kitchen well--an American-sized refrigerator with a microwave-sized electric convection oven on top. I had to climb a step ladder to get up to it... only I didn't have a step ladder. I used a chair. I also had a 2-burner electric hot-plate for a stove. That's it, people. No dishwasher, either. Just a sink and a drain board. Not only did I cook regularly at home, I also catered parties for the husband's office. One time I prepared food for 50 for a co-ed baby shower from that tiny kitchen. (Mind you we didn't even have a car--all that food was transported by taxi!)

Then I graduated to a house. And with that house came a booming career that kept me away from home, between the commute and the busy work life and occasional travel, there was no time for cooking. And my home had a decent-sized kitchen with a dishwasher and lots of storage. But no time--so it was take-out for us for the better part of five years.

Now that we're in a much smaller home--read much smaller kitchen--I do all of those homey things I had missed. And obviously not only do I cook regularly, but I blog about it, too.

Here is my kitchen:

So tell me. How big is your kitchen, and how often do you use it?

Ladies' Lunch Tuesday: Squash Soup and a Spinach Salad

Yesterday was Ladies' Lunch Tuesday here at Chez W, and I took the opportunity to use up some of my Thanksgiving leftovers. I made a delicious soup from leftover hubbard squash inspired by this recipe from the ever-talented Marye of Apron Strings and Simmering Things. The only difference was that I used turkey broth instead of cream and buttermilk, and of course leftover cooked hubbard squash instead of butternut. (I avoid buttermilk. Except in ranch dressing. That is my only exception.) It really lowered the fat content of the soup, and was a delicious, creamy treat. I think next time I'll add some crispy prosciutto croutons for garnish--yum!

I also served my famous baby spinach salad with maple-balsamic vinaigrette. This is the winning salad, folks, that never fails to please. It's very simple. Baby spinach. Crumbled blue cheese. Some kind of chopped nut (I like hazelnuts or pecans). A chopped apple or pear with skin on squirted with a wee bit of lemon juice. Dried cranberries. Then you can add anything else you like--I included some leftover torn turkey breast meat from the holiday bird and some cherry tomatoes. But no matter what you put in your salad, what brings it to star status is the dressing.

Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette
makes 1-1/2 cups dressing

1/2 cup pure maple syrup
(you may substitute sugar free diabetic-safe maple flavored syrup if you need to with excellent results)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine syrup and vinegar in a bowl. While whisking constantly, add olive oil in a slow stream until thoroughly combined and emulsified. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Dark and sinfully syrupy, this dressing never fails to please, leaving eyes rolling as they devour their salads. And if you choose to use the sugar-free stuff, no one will be the wiser.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Great International City Swap: Package Received!

My package arrived--and what a treat!

Lulu is awesome! This package is straight from my former home of Atlanta, GA, full of local flavor and items that brought back some great memories. Inside was:

  • A 2008 Coca-Cola Calendar - The World of Coca-Cola was one of my most favorite places in Atlanta. Anytime someone would visit us we would take them to the Coca-Cola museum. I know MY favorite part was the tasting room, where you can taste sodas produced by Coke all over the world, many that are not offered here in the United States.
  • A Gone with the Wind Movie Poster Jigsaw Puzzle - Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell was born in Atlanta, and her birthplace is an historic home in Atlanta.
  • My South: A People, A Place, A World of Its Own by Robert St. John - this book is a series of quotes from various southerners through the years... and this is the one that really did it for me. As I leafed through the pages, the quotations really packed a big emotional wallop, calling to mind some of my favorite things about living in Atlanta, like azaleas, magnolia trees and daylillies, the lullaby of treefrogs in the trees behind my house, and that slow, southern slang that greets you with a sweet melody everywhere you go--from the office to the market to your neighbor's front porch swing.

Thanks, girl.

And thanks to At Home in Rome for coordinating this event.

Now if only I'd hear from Ms. Kitten that my package made it safely to her...

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Well. Thanksgiving is over.

What a flurry of activity--two days of prepping and cooking numerous sides and condiments culminated in a quick inhale of all foods presented at 4:00 pm local time Thursday (Thanksgiving Day). It's quite anticlimactic, really. All the food comes out. Oohs and aahs. Grace. Dig in.

Then the mess. Which wasn't too terribly awful, since I did use paper plates and bowls.

After picking the turkey carcass I made a giant pot of broth. If you've never done this, you must try it next time you have a turkey. Just save all the skin, bones, cartilage, giblets (if you don't use them for something else) and other miscellaneous jiggly bits and throw it all in the biggest pot you have along with one or two onions cut in half and a few stalks of celery. Simmer it for a few hours and voila! Delicious broth for future soups and stews. Freeze it in 2-cup portions.

Mr.W is a sucker for black Friday shopping--especially Best Buy. But I just couldn't do it first thing (read: 3:30am!) in the morning. So I stayed home for a few more hours of rest.

But I did manage to go out for a drive out to Sherrill, NY to the Oneida Factory Outlet Store. Hubba, hubba! I got two boxes of tableware, each a service for four, and six assorted serving spoons from the mix-n-match bins, and it all only set me back $15! What a steal!

All in all, a great holiday!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

(That is, if you celebrate American Thanksgiving.)

Well as you can imagine, this is quite a frenzy of activity today until the 4 o'clock meal. Even so, I am never too busy to remember all of the wonderful things in our lives for which we can thank God.

Here are just a few things that I am thankful for:

- Mr.W, safe at home

- Dogs Sandy and Pickle, as well as our newest addition, kitty Thundercat

- Good health

- Loving family

- A warm house to live in, food to eat every day and a car to drive.

- Friends--live and online--that are kind, sweet, supportive and uplifting.

Blessings to all this day and every day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How to Make Napkin Rolls

Have you ever gone through a buffet line and forgotten to grab a knife? Then you have to go back, fight through the hordes, just to grab a knife, oh and then maybe a spoon and a few extra napkins, just in case.

When you're serving a crowd, it's helpful to roll up some silverware in napkins--then guests can just pick up a bundle on the way to their seats. In my case, usually it's plasticware in paper napkins, but you could do the same with the good stuff.

Here's how. (Important note: I am left-handed, so keep that in mind--you may need to do this in the opposite direction.)

First, you lay out your napkins. I'm using paper beverage-sized napkins in white and red.

Next, you get a fork, knife and spoon. I like to set the curve of the fork into the bowl of the spoon with the knife in the back. Lay them with the very top of the longest piece at the top corner of your topmost napkin. Fold the bottom corner up over the bottoms of your tableware.

While holding that in place, take the left-hand side of the napkins and fold them completely over the tableware. Press it down over the right side of the tableware.

Now roll up toward the right. Secure with a ribbon. Voila! A napkin roll.

I like to place the napkin rolls at the end of the buffet line. It's also important to put out extras--at least 2 per person, plus extra loose pieces for seconds and thirds somewhere handy. Don't forget lots of little napkin piles all over the house!

The Cooking Marathon Begins

Mr.W has made it home safe and sound, and is pleased to find the new addition to our household. Here is our sweet kitty, who has been permanently dubbed, "Thundercat."

Now I can concentrate on cooking. I am expecting a crowd of 10 to stroll through at some point during the day. Dinner is scheduled for 4pm, but there are some folks who will arrive for dessert, come by for 2nds later in the day, and so forth. Here is my Thanksgiving Menu:

Appetizer: Hot Spinach-Crab Dip with Multigrain Crackers

Salad: Salad of Baby Spinach, Dried Cranberries, Grape Tomatoes, Crumbled Blue Cheese and Chopped Hazelnuts with a Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette

Entree: Orange-Roasted Turkey with Giblet Gravy, Quinoa-Stuffed Hubbard Squash

Sides: Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Pureed White Beans, Sweet n' Spicy Roasted Yams, Carrots and Onions, Macaroni and Cheese

Extras: Dinner Rolls and Butter, Cranberry Compote, Fruit-Stuffed Sugar Pumpkin

Dessert: Sugar-Free Pumpkin Custard, Assorted Pies and Whipped Cream

Beverages: Wine, Coffee, Tea, Bottled Water

Today I'll be making the stuffing, mashed potatoes, pureed white beans, maple-balsamic vinaigrette and the sugar-free pumpkin custard, as well as prepping for the other dishes and setting the table.

When I prepare a menu, I like to also plan what serving dishes and utensils will be used so that everything moves ahead easily. I'll be labelling all the serving containers with small slips of paper so that last-minute frenzies are avoided and any helpers I may be blessed with will know which dish to bring me when it's time to plate things.

Thanksgiving is quite a casual day at my house--paper plates and plastic cups. A little ghetto, maybe, but it makes my life much easier to keep my dish-doing to a minimum. After all, I don't have an automatic dishwasher!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chicken-Escarole Orzotto

It might not be pretty, but it is soooooo goooooood. Orzotto is risotto made with barley instead of rice. (Thanks to An Italian in the US for alerting me to the correct term!)

As you may have read before, my city is very Italian-American, and we love escarole—in greens dishes and in soup. It’s a hearty lettuce that retains some texture even after prolonged cooking (unlike spinach, which can get a little slimy). And that made it perfect for this dish.

Chicken-Escarole Orzotto
serves 2 or 3

1 can fat-free vegetarian vegetable broth
1/3 cup your favorite spaghetti sauce
Hot water
Olive oil
3 cups chopped escarole, washed and drained
1/2 cup pearled barley
3 large cloves garlic, minced
Pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1-1/2 cups cooked chicken meat

The first thing to do is combine the vegetable broth, spaghetti sauce and about 1 cup of water in a saucepan on a very low flame. You want your liquid to be warm—kept just under the simmering point—to make your cooking process go that much more smoothly. In addition to this pot of broth, I like to keep a teapot full of hot water on in case I need extra liquid. And I usually do.

Heat a medium saucepan over medium flame, then add olive oil to coat the bottom. When the oil comes to a shimmer, add escarole and fry until well wilted.

Push the escarole to the edges of the pan to expose the center bottom. Pour in barley and heat 1 minute, then push it to the sides and add garlic. Fry, stirring, until fragrant (30 seconds to 1 minute).

Now comes the fun part.

Add about 1/2 cup broth mixture. Stir constantly until liquid is absorbed. Then add more, and again stir constantly until liquid is absorbed. Continue this process until no more liquid is absorbed. It may take 30-40 minutes, so don’t be discouraged!

Taste and season with salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Go easy on the salt because the cheeses will add more salty goodness.

Add cheeses and chicken; stir until combined and melted.

Now here is where a tv chef or uber-blogger would suggest adding fresh herbs for some bright green beauty added to the dish. I didn’t have any fresh herbs, so I didn’t use any.

And as ugly as this dish is, it is so creamy, just lightly spicy and full of texture. Just right for a late supper while watching Heroes.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Great International City Swap: Package Sent!

Of course I waited for the deadline to send out my package as part of the Great International City Swap. Here it is:

Well I couldn't give away the surprise, now could I?

I'm sending a package to Ms. Kitten. I had such a good time putting together her package that represents my city and, of course, myself. I look forward to her reactions.

I received an email today from Lulu's Laundry that she has sent my package out today, as well! This is rather exciting.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ugliest Gourmet

A contest is afoot!

You may remember that I entered my Kitty Box Cake in the Ugliest Gourmet contest hosted by Not Eating Out in New York. The roundup has been posted today and the polls are now open, so get out your ballots and vote away!

The winner of the contest has the honor of their ugly dish being featured at NEOINY's Thanksgiving table! Heh, heh! (See the winner here... I tied for 2nd place!)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thanksgiving Shopping

I look like I've been chasing a toddler all day. It's scary, really.

No toddler, and little cat is starting to get into the groove of things... though her personality (felinality?) is leaning more and more towards the name, "Thundercat." She is quite a storm!

It's shopping that's done me in today. Good ness! From first thing this morning (well not FIRST thing, but around 7:30) the crowds were already at Wally's. Shocking for a Friday!

So I got what I needed... PLUS an awesome counter-top turkey roaster! I justified the purchase with three criteria:

- Thanksgiving is always such a juggling act. Turkey takes up the oven, and sides have to be rotated in and out if they fit on the topmost rack. Which means they can't be big sides, and that just won't do.

- The price was outstanding--it was a 'last year's merchandise' markdown below the price of the new model currently on sale.

- I'm certain I'll be able to use this little feller during the year, with all the every-other-Sunday-man-days around here, as well as other frequent entertaining.

So I got it.

Then I picked up my brother to head out a few towns away to the organic grocery--I can buy organic quinoa there from the bulk bins at half the price! Plus it was nice to spend some time with my brother, have a bite and a cup of tea together. It's so important to connect every once in a while without the SOs around.

Then on to my regular grocery I went. By then it was about 2pm, and the place was a madhouse! Several items that I needed were out of stock or otherwise rendered invisible. The turkey selection was absurd--I had a coupon for $10 off a Butterball turkey and I could NOT find one under 20 pounds.

(I know, I know. I'd rather have a free-range, organic bird, but they're just so darn expensive. I should remember to start a piggy bank for next year's turkey.)

Then there were all the little old ladies snatching turkeys left and right--it was like feeding time at the shark tank. There was only one thing I could do.

Get the other stuff I needed and leave. And leave I did. To the competing grocery in town. Which was quiet. Luxuriously so. They did have Butterball turkeys around 15 pounds. At the same price even! Whoo hoo!

Why do I shop anywhere else, you ask? Well, because they don't carry the sugar-free products I need in my life. Especially the hazelnut-flavored coffee creamer. I can't do without that, now can I?

So with no little amount of trouble and aggravation (and lots of prayer), I have my Thanksgiving grocery shopping almost done. The only things left to do are the fresh ingredients that I need to buy the day before--like spinach, milk and such.

I'd also like to apologize for not doing too much real recipe blogging lately. Usually the week leading up to Thanksgiving I rest up, saving my strength for the big cooking that's coming up!

Well I hope you have successfully avoided the mad hordes of shoppers out there. Unless you like that sort of thing.

Why I Eat Butter

In my early morning reading I found this article, which I find very interesting:

Healthy Habits That Aren't

© George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Following a low-fat diet

Significantly cutting the fat in your diet is supposed to lead to weight loss, cancer prevention and a healthier heart. Turns out, those promises might just be empty intellectual calories. In 2006, the Women’s Health Initiative—a several-billion dollar, eight-year study of the effects of low-fat diets—finally came to an end. The results were shocking. Not only did the women who followed “fat-free diets” show no decrease in cancer or heart disease rates compared to their fat-eating counterparts, but they also weren’t any skinnier. And, the researchers said, the study probably applied to men as well. If you follow the medical literature, however, there’ve been plenty of studies, dating back to the early 1990s, which show low-fat diets aren’t as effective as they’re made out to be. In fact, there’s even some evidence that the behaviors they inspire might be harmful. A 2007 study in the journal Human Reproduction found that women who carefully avoided full-fat dairy products were more likely to experience a certain type of infertility.

And that is why I never jumped on the fat-free bandwagon. Sure, I select some reduced fat products, but usually not fat-free. Or if I do use fat-free items, they are for a dish to balance other fat used.

I guess it all goes back to one rule: everything in moderation.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Redeeming Myself

I couldn't let go.

My recent post about the failed roasted spiced pumpkin just stayed in my brain. What could make it better? So I tried again.

Well... sorta. I used a sweet potato, and I didn't measure. Here's what I did:

- Peeled and cubed a sweet potato. (Y'all might call it a yam--one of those orange-flesh tubers. But they really are sweet potatoes--yams are actually a huge South American tuber.)

- Tossed it with olive oil, salt, chili powder, cayenne and a generous scraping of nutmeg.

- Drizzled with about 1 teaspoon agave nectar for some sweetness.

- Roasted at 350*F for 40 minutes until fork-tender.

Delicious--gently spicy and lightly sweet. It was so good that I've decided to add this to my Thanksgiving table this year. Perfect for my own dietary requirements, as well as those of my family and friends who will join us next week.

On another note, the new cat is showing more of her personality. "The Streak" is another name possibility, as well as "Loudmouth."

What have I done?

Pitter Patter

I have two dogs. Sandy, a blonde corgie-mix is an aged 13 years, has been my companion for a long time. Now hard of hearing and sight-impaired by cateracts, she is still my beloved little nummy that I brought back from South Korea.

Then came Pickle, the Dog Who Named Herself, who is now a 7 years old seemingly rat-terrier mix. I originally intended to call her Peanut, but every time I'd call her name, Pickle would emerge contrarily from my lips instead. I continue to tell everyone that she brainwashed me and picked her own name. Or pickled her own name. Whatever.

And last night, my brother called me from our local library.

"Do you want a cat?"


"It's trying to get into the library, and it doesn't belong to any of the neighbors. It's a sweet little thing."


"Do you hear it meowing? Awwww..."

"Bring it over."

See what a pushover I am?

So here is the little darling in many modes from the last several hours. And oh, what an interesting several hours it has been! She's been all over the place--fiercely curious and bravely challenging the doggies, who, at first, were mostly oblivious to her presence. However since that time she has scared the wits out of poor Pickle, who won't go near her. Quite the little dominatrix. She jumps, she growls and hisses at the dogs, yet is sweet and cuddly with a purr that could bring down the walls of Jericho. Little one had to sleep ON me. Not near me, not beside me, but on me. Especially on my armpit while she made buns in my hair.

Now comes the best part. Naming her.

I've been making a list of the names that appeal to me. Names like Thundercat and Steppenwolf. But she didn't answer to those two. Catzilla would be funny, but I'm afraid of what kind of cat a catzilla would become. Would that be creating a monster?

McLovin'? Toejam? Ginseng? She has answered to Taterbug, Tinkerbell and Pushka. But I'm not sure about those, either. The search continues.

So if you have any suggestions for Miz Thang's name, comment away! My only criteria is that it shouldn't be a human name. I don't like to name my animals human names--and before you go pointing out that Sandy is a human name, she came to me already named after a year with her first family.

And shhhhh... this is a surprise for when Mr.W comes home!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pink in the Morning

It's not overly visible from this cruddy cell phone camera photo, but the sky was full of hazy pinks and oranges this morning when I let the dogs out. And that means one thing... rain is coming.

Which must be why I have an awful headache. So I'm going to make this quick.

Last night for dinner I made something that seemed like it would be good, but in fact was not. I took a little one-pound pumpkin and cut it open, de-seeded it, chopped it up and peeled the skin from the pieces, tossed with olive oil, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a seasoning blend made with cumin, coriander, chili powder, paprika, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, cayenne and ground cloves. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? I thought so, too.

After about 45 minutes in the oven at 350*F, it was almost done. I grabbed a small piece to taste and... yuck. Not good. So I drizzled the whole mess with agave nectar and added freshly grated nutmeg over all.

That helped a little, but it still isn't what I would call tasty. I ate it anyway, alongside a little steak, which was absolutely delicious. And I didn't even cook it--friends sent me home with it on Sunday!

So tell me--if you cook something that you plan to blog, and it turns out a flop, do you blog about it anyway?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Crustless Ham and Swiss Quiche

I prepared this quiche recipe last night--all I did today was preheat the oven, grease the pan, pour the filling in, and bake while the gals sat and talked. It's a little on the rich side, and a wee bit salty, so a little goes a long way. I would even suggest adding something green--spinach or broccoli--to balance the saltiness. Paired with soup or salad, this is a perfect entree; cut into small squares it's just right for an appetizer.

Crustless Ham and Swiss Quiche
serves 8

Grease a 13x9x2" baking pan and set aside. Preheat oven to 350*F. In a large bowl, combine:

12 large eggs, beaten
1-1/2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
2 cups shredded swiss cheese (actually I used sandwich slices that I stacked and cut up; 8 ounces is 2 cups)
1 scant cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup chopped ham
ground black pepper, to taste
few scrapes nutmeg, or to taste

Stir well to combine. Pour into prepared baking pan and bake in center of preheated oven for 60-75 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out nearly clean.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veteran's Day

Today is a federal holiday here in the United States, and it is a doubly-blah day here in Central New York: cold, dark, overcast.

As I'm still surviving on my Lentil Soup, and Mr.W isn't due back until next week, it's a bit quiet around the homefront. I went to Wally's World today for a bit of a distraction and decided to buy some craft stuff for making holiday wreaths.

This is an opportunity to earn a little holiday cashola, you see.

I spent $13 on stuff to make two Christmas wreaths, one that I will send to work with Mr.W for his cubicle, and the other I will send to work with a friend's husband. And all of those ladies at their offices will ooh and aah and say, "Where did you get that?"

At which point they will give out my email address. Voila! Two birds with one stone: funding my crafting fix and making a small profit for my own Christmas must-haves.

Obviously this post is full of nonsensical ramblings. But I'm not cooking today, and didn't cook yesterday. In fact, I was invited to a friend's house for a mid-afternoon meal of burnt offerings (bar-b-qued meat) and salad, with leftovers to bring home. So I didn't have to cook yesterday, either. Tomorrow is a different story--the ladies are coming for lunch, and there will be a quiche to prepare and post about tomorrow.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Movie Night

Our friends Z and J hosted movie night last night.

We usually start off with snacks--my brother and his wife brought li'l smokies-in-blankets, black bean dip and tortilla chips. Our hosts provided yummy homemade cookies. And I brought Hot Crab and Artichoke Dip kept warm in a fondue pot with multigrain bagel chip for dipping.

We watched two really fun movies: Casino Royale and Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx. I especially like funny kung-fu movies, and Rumble in the Bronx sure delivered lots of action and more than a few laughs!

Hot Crab and Artichoke Dip

1 15-ounce can artichokes, drained and chopped
1 6-ounce can white crabmeat, drained and picked over (of course you can use fresh crabmeat if desired; I like to buy the canned lump crabmeat)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Combine all ingredients and stir well. Pour in an oven-save dish and bake, uncovered, at 350*F for 45 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. Serve hot.

I happen to have a fondue pot with an oven-safe crock, so when I arrived at our friend's house, it was easy to just pop it into the holder and light the candle to keep it hot and bubbling. Yum!

A fun night was had by all!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Snow... and Soup!

Well it's been snowing this morning. Big, fat flakes... but they were doomed to melt as soon as they hit the ground. And that's the kind of snow I like--pretty as you please, and no accumulation! (Which means no shoveling. Yay!)

You can't see the snowflakes in this photo, unfortunately. But they're there! Really! Stupid cell-phone camera. These are the big trees behind my house. Years ago when these houses were built someone decided it was a good idea to plant a row of pine trees--and there they are. Tremendous. But aside from some sap & needles, the trees do insulate the house considerably from wind in the winter and sun in the summer.

So with all this cold weather--enough for the short snowfall here and there--I'm in soup mode. Today I made up a quick batch of lentil soup. This is my first try at using them, and it was super easy!

Lentil Soup

In a large skillet over medium heat, saute in olive oil:

1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, diced

When onions are transparent, add:

3 cloves garlic, minced

Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add:

pinch dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake (optional)
1 small bay leaf
6 cups chicken broth (I used homemade low-salt broth)
1/2 pound lentils, carefully inspected and rinsed well
1/2 celery rib, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped pepperoni, or 1/2 cup chopped leftover ham

Yes, that's right. Plain old pepperoni. I buy it already sliced in a pillow-pack so I can make quick pizzas for lunch. And it's perfect for a little porky goodness.

Bring soup to a boil and cover; reduce heat to low and simmer 45-60 minutes, or until lentils are soft. Add:

1 tablespoon tomato paste or your favorite spaghetti sauce from a jar (that's what I used, optional)

Now is the fun part. I put in my stick blender to lightly puree the soup, for thickening and textural interest. I only whirled it around a few times--there are still chunks, but some is pureed. Serve steaming in mugs.

Dee-lish, and just right for sitting at the computer on a cold day! This big batch will keep me in soup lunches all week.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Pear-Cranberry Galette with Blue Cheese, Hazelnuts and Agave Nectar

Today I made a most delicious galette--which is really just a fancy name for a very rustic tart.

Really just a glorified pie--sans top crust, of course--this is the perfect balance of sweet and salty, ideal for the individual who likes a dessert not too sweet. A small slice is just right with a glass of wine.

Make this for a holiday party this year--you won't regret it!

Pear-Cranberry Galette with Blue Cheese, Hazelnuts and Agave Nectar
12 slices

pie crust for a single-crust pie (I made mine very quickly and by eye--shortening, all-purpose flour and cold water--so you'll have to use your own short pastry crust recipe)
1/4 cup salted butter
1/4 cup fresh cranberries
2 large bosc pears, cored and chopped (I left the skin on)
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1/4 pound blue cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts
additional agave nectar for drizzling

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Turn heat to low and let butter brown--watch this carefully so it does not burn. When the melted butter has become brown in color, add fresh cranberries. Saute until they pop--then mash lightly with a potato masher so they're broken up.

Add chopped pears and 1T agave nectar and saute lightly. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Roll out pie crust in an oval--this need not be perfect. Transfer to a greased foil- or parchment-lined cookie sheet. A galette is a rustic presentation. Pour pear-cranberry mixture onto the center of the dough. Spread, leaving about a 2-inch border all around. Top with crumbled blue cheese and chopped hazlenuts.

Fold the crust border up and over the perimeter of the filling. You should not cover it completely--just enough to hold the filling in place. Fold crust decoratively, as desired. Brush exposed crust with an egg wash or milk, if you want a nice sheen on your crust. I actually just spray it with Pam spray and it works for me--and a real shortcut.

Bake in the center of a preheated 350*F oven for about 30 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and filling in bubbly.

Remove from oven and gently slide galette to a rack to cool thoroughly.

Serve wedges with an extra drizzle of agave nectar.

I served this at room temperature with extra agave nectar drizzled decoratively over the slice.

This is my entry for "Waiter, there's something in my... topless tart!" hosted by Jeanne of CookSister. What a fun event this month! See all the clever topless tarts submitted for this event--visit the roundup here.

And again, please do accept my apologies for less-than-ideal photos... with Mr.W galavanting all over God's Green Earth with our digital camera, I am limited to my wee cell-phone camera.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Easy Weeknight Steak and Broccoli with Blue Cheese Butter

With Mr.W out of town, I find myself eating here and there, at odd times, and certainly strange combinations of things--tomato pie and grapes, a pear and a hunk of leftover chicken... you get the idea. When I'm not preparing a meal for my husband, it's easy just to grab something handy and not worry about nutrition or presentation.

So today I decided I would have a decent dinner. I defrosted a steak and dusted off my George Foreman grill for some action!

The steak marinated for about 15 minutes in a little balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. While the broccoli steamed on the stove, I slapped the steak into li'l George and got to work on the blue cheese butter.

Blue Cheese Butter

2 tablespoons salted butter at room temperature

2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese

Mash together with a fork until thoroughly combined.

Even the simplest of meals can be delicious. This blue cheese butter made all the difference, adding salty creaminess to both the steak and broccoli as it melted. What a treat!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Holiday Planner

While I've already been thinking about the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, I haven't actually been planning well.

At least that is what occurred to me when I read Africankelli's blog post on her very organized plan. And so inspired, I thought I'd start giving my plans another look. Okay, a first look. After all, I am in charge of both holiday meals for my entire family. Add to that our yearly holiday open house party between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So let the planning begin!


Week 1

  • Finalize menu for Thanksgiving Dinner.
  • Plan tablecloths, dishes, tableware, etc.
  • Buy nice napkins.
  • Assign dishes/other items for family members to bring.
  • Inventory pantry and make grocery list.
  • Rummage through coupons and sale papers.
  • Begin purchasing non-perishable items.
  • Ask brother about his in-laws meal time and plan around.
  • Call parents to invite when time for meal is established.
  • Plan a holiday craft project and invite kids from children's church.

Week 2
  • Holiday - Veteran's Day
  • Purchase groceries needed.
  • Prepare cooking/make-ahead schedule.

Week 3
  • Plan Open House menu and make guest list.
  • Pick up Mr.W from airport.
  • Purchase last-minute groceries.
  • Buy wine for Thanksgiving, Open House and Christmas.
  • Cook, cook, cook!
  • Shop black Friday - focus on Christmas gifts.

Week 4
  • Create open house invitation flyer and email out.
  • Print and deliver invites to neighbors and family without email.
  • Make icebox fruitcake for gift-giving.
  • Put up Christmas tree and decorate.
  • Hang garlands and wreath at front door.
  • Children's church craft project.

Week 5
  • Bake cookies for open house.
  • Finalize open house menu.
  • Make grocery list.
  • Prepare make-ahead and open house cooking schedule.
  • Start planning for Christmas meal.

Week 6
  • Shop for groceries for open house and Christmas meal.
  • Tidy home; rearrange furniture for open house.
  • Cook, cook, cook!

Week 7
  • Finalize Christmas shopping and wrap gifts.
  • Iron table linens.
  • Plan Christmas tablescape.
  • Prepare make-ahead and Christmas cooking schedule.

Week 8
  • Purchase last-minute groceries.
  • Cook, cook, cook!
  • Pass out from exhaustion.

Did I forget anything? Probably... but my lists change over the course of time. I'm sure this one will get bigger and bigger!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Pumpkin Curry Soup

Tuesday is here again, and that means another ladies' luncheon at my house. Today I served a Pumpkin Curry Soup that was a snap to put together, and oh, so very satisfying.

This soup has a gentle heat that sneaks up on you. Just right for a cold, rainy day.

Pumpkin Curry Soup
serves 8

1/4 cup salted butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2" piece of ginger, peeled and grated (do this over a bowl to get the juice, too)

1 tablespoon curry powder (I used hot curry powder)

4 cups chicken stock or broth

1 14-ounce can organic unsweetened coconut milk

2 cans (15-ounces each) pumpkin puree

2/3 cup apple cider (mine was spiced)

2 teaspoons salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over a low flame. Add onion and cook slowly until caramelized. Stir in garlic, ginger and curry powder and saute one or two minutes; be careful not to scorch the garlic. Add 2 cups chicken stock and remove from heat. Stir to scrape up any browned bits accumulated at the bottom of the pan.

Pour onion mixture into a crock pot and add remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Set on high for 1 hour, then switch to low for 3 hours.

Serve hot with dollops of sour cream.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Oatmeal, Raisin and Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have this box of oat bran flour hanging around that I've been looking for more uses for... not to mention my constant quest for sugar-free sweets!

A couple of weeks ago Mr.W and I were visiting our local Barnes & Noble where I can most often be found either in the cookbook section or in the attached coffee shop reading them. I happened to grab the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. My grandmother had a paper-back copy years ago when I was learning how to cook, and I read it cover-to-cover several times. But back then I wasn't really interested in anything that contained something called bran. G'ma never would buy unusual ingredients anyway. But I found that recipe and copied it down.

Since then I've been thinking about the recipe. Maybe it could be morphed with my memories of a yummy little oatmeal-raisin-chocolate chip cookie that my mother used to make... way back before she was diagnosed, when she would make cookies with us.

Thus a new cookie is born. Using Fannie Farmer's recipe as a mere guide, I developed these wheat- and sugar-free cookies that taste just like the real thing. I even gobbled up at least two cookies' worth of uncooked dough. Mmm... so good. And as always, this could also be made with real sugar--I'd go with light brown sugar, myself.

Again, apologies for the poor photo quality. Mr.W has our digi cam with him on his trip... so I'm stuck with my cell phone camera.

Oatmeal, Raisin and Chocolate Chip Cookies (Wheat Free)
yield: 2 dozen small cookies

1/4 cup butter or margarine, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar substitute (to equal the sweetness of sugar; I used granulated Whey Low, but you could also use Splenda)

1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup oat bran flour
1/2 cup regular-cooking oats
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (okay, I made a compromise here with the chips... but a girl's got to have chocolate sometimes!)
1/4 cup raisins (I actually used chopped prunes, because they're a similar texture and taste without the added sugar)

With a fork, thoroughly combine butter and sugar substitute. Mix in egg and vanilla. Add oat bran flour, oats, soda and salt and stir until just combined. Add chips and raisins and stir until just mixed in. You don't want to overwork the cookie dough.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. These cookies puff up a little but, but they DO NOT SPREAD, so no need to space them too far apart. You'll want to flatten your little cookie dough blobs a little bit with floured fingers.

(Now I made my cookies a little too big--rounded tablespoonfuls, actually--and it made about 1-1/2 dozen cookies, plus about 2T uncooked cookie dough right in my mouth. Yes, I am guilty of the sin of gluttony.)

Bake in a preheated 350*F oven for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 3-5 minutes on cookie sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

You'll never miss the flour. And seriously, I can't even tell the difference between sugar and whey low. It's a little pricey, but oh-so-yummy. And no, I don't work for these people, or receive incentive of any kind for writing that.

Potential warning: because these contain lots of fiber, and especially if you use prunes instead of raisins, like I did... well. You can imagine what might happen if you eat too many.

The Great International City Swap, Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and a Meme

I've signed up to be a participant in the 2nd Annual Great International City Swap hosted by At Home in Rome. The premise is that you send a package to your assigned person that best represents you and the city in which you live. I have been assigned Ms. Kitten, and Lulu's Laundry will be sending a package to me. This should be fun!

This weekend I got my hands on an absolutely gigantic bag of brussels sprouts from another farmer's market stand. $2 for the whole bag! I couldn't resist. I've never, ever made them from fresh before... in fact, I've only ever steamed them from the frozen bag/box and tossed with butter and salt before eating. Truth be told, I don't like them all that well. I mean, they're okay... and I choose to eat them for the health benefits.

I decided to combine my brussels sprouts with my favorite kind of grease--bacon! Yes, indeed!

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
serves 8

three pounds fresh brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed and sliced
1 pound bacon
1 large onion, peeled and sliced

1 cup chicken broth
1 cup milk or cream
salt and pepper, to taste

In a very large saucepan, cook bacon over a medium flame; set aside, reserving rendered grease. (Okay, if you really want to make this less horrible-for-you, pour off most of the grease and replace with a good three tablespoons olive oil.)

Fry onion in bacon grease until starting to brown, then add prepared brussels sprouts. Every few minutes turn your sprouts. When they look like they're starting to wilt, add chicken stock and cover with a lid or foil. Let cook for about 30 minutes, checking and turning every 10 minutes or so. Remove lid/foil and add milk and finish braising carefully, until sprouts are really well done. I had almost no liquid left when mine were finished cooking. Remove from heat and top with crumbled reserved bacon.

Well they still taste like brussels sprouts, but much better than the frozen ones, and of course the addition of bacon helped them tremendously. Braising in cream also helped to balance the bitterness of the sprout with a little sweetness. So now I have this mountain of sprouts that I've been eating, little by little, for meals while Mr.W is away. It's actually quite good re-fried in a little oil and topped with a soft-cooked egg, for breakfast, lunch, or supper! (Or, in my case, all three.)

To finish today's post, I'm in the mood for another random-ish meme... self-inflicted, of course:

1. What picture is featured on your computer's wallpaper? It's a pic from Shrek 3, showing just the very top of Shrek's head wearing a wee little crown.

2. Name some of the cities you've lived:
- currently in Central NY... in the city where I was born
- South Korea
- Atlanta, GA
- Key West, FL

3. Name some of the places you've travelled:
- Seaside Heights, NJ
- Tampa, FL
- Pittsburgh, PA
- Washington, DC
- Baton Rouge, LA
- Cape Town, South Africa
- Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
- Geneva, Switzerland

4. What is your top pet peeve? Misspellings on public billboards/restaurant menus/store signs.

5. What are your three top favorite stores? Cost Plus World Market in Atlanta's Buckhead district, Target anywhere, and the street markets at South Gate in South Korea.

6. Favorite pizza toppings? I love a pizza topped only with sauce, cheese, mushrooms and green/red bell peppers. Mmm...

7. How many computers do you have in your home? Three working computers: one desktop in the office, one laptop that moves around usually between the living and dining rooms, and another desktop that is in a box in a closet. There are more computer bits & pieces in the basement Mr.W has been collecting for some future project to be determined...

8. If you could eat at any restaurant right now, where would it be? Mmm, right now I would enjoy lunch at Queen of Sheba in Atlanta... or a boxed take-out lunch from a delish little Jamaican shop in Hiram, GA. Yum, yum, yum!

9. What one household item do you keep in multiple rooms of the house? Scissors. I must have scissors. In the bathroom, in the office, in the kitchen. If I can't find scissors, I freak out just a little bit.

10. Do you prefer listening to the radio, cds, or mp3s? Hmm... interesting. Well, I keep a christian radio station on all the time either very softly or turned up, depending on my mood and what I'm doing. I have a pretty large collection of music loaded onto itunes on my laptop, and often listen directly from the laptop instead of getting out my ipod. I only listen to the ipod when I'm out-and-about.

Well... I'm sure you all really wanted to know all of that.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A Road Trip and a Quick Supper


I dropped off Mr.W at the airport today. And to avoid becoming overly emotional, my wonderful brother and sister-in-law joined me. It's a road trip, after all, to the airport. And what better way to avoid anxiousness than shopping?

We found The Christmas Tree Shop. Oh. My. Word. There was just too much going on at this store to really absorb. Like a glorified Big Lots, the Christmas Tree Shop is full of, well, everything. Dishes. Ornaments. Stockings. Napkins. Paper plates. Spices. Tea. Doggie beds. Oh my, I could go on and on. It was a diversion that I enjoyed thoroughly.

But my poor brother got that glassy-eyed look as his wife and I browsed, oohing and aahing.

Then we went to the mall, and by the time we started for home it was dark out. Which really isn't that late--we were back in town by 7ish in the evening.

And I remembered I had a coupon for my grocery store--$5 off a total bill of $40 or more, that expired today. So I had to go... but it was a quick trip with my trusty list in hand. I can be a very focused shopper.

By the time I got home and let my poor little doggies out, it was about 8:30 and I hadn't had any food since noon.

I whipped up this very quick salad. It's a cross between a carrot salad and a waldorf salad, and well worth it. Although it's a bit on the sweet side, for a light bite, it's just right paired with a simple piece of meat or poultry. I ate it with about 1/3 of a rather large poached chicken breast.

Carrot-Waldorf Salad
serves 4

2 carrots, peeled and shredded
1 apple, peeled, cored and shredded (I used a Golden Delicious)
2 tablspoons apple cider
2 tablespoons honey (I used agave nectar)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
pinch salt

Combine all ingredients together in a bowl and cover surface with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Starting now and for the duration of my husband's business trip, please do accept my apologies for the photo quality. He's taken our digital camera, and I'm now limited to my cell-phone camera. And as you might know, they're hit-or-miss!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Open House and a Boxed Lunch

Oh, my days are just so busy lately. But soon... soon I will have all sorts of time on my hands.

I've been spending a lot of time with my friend M over the last few weeks cleaning up her house a few towns away that she's been cleaning up after her former tenants, who treated her home very badly. (You can read my rant here. However no rant can truly describe how awful it was--and I didn't dare post photos on this, a food blog.)

But now it's clean, with freshly painted walls, new carpets, and staged just so for an open house. Here is just a glimpse of the foyer.

Now in this region, open houses are unlike those you might see on HGTV. They like to schedule them for realtors only. But that really does make sense, because they will keep the house in their minds as they meet with clients looking to buy.

When M announced to her realtor that she'd like to provide a boxed lunch to the realtors that come to view the house, she was surprised. Evidently they don't do food around here.

I know.

So I helped her prepare 35 of these fun little lunches.

This lunch contained one slice of tomato pie*, one mini ham sandwich on a luscious wee potato roll, a container of cabbage salad**, a chocolate-covered cherry cookie, and of course a plastic fork rolled up in a little pink napkin, safely ensconsed in a plastic baggie so not to get yucky.

*Tomato pie is a Central New York phenomenon which, at first glance, seems like half a pizza. But first glances are deceiving--this little slice of heaven is a completely different thing altogether, bready and slathered with thick tomato paste and sprinkled liberally with parmesan cheese. It needs nothing else.

**Apparently cabbage salad is a delicacy from Maine. Not cole slaw, no... it is indeed a salad--only made with shredded cabbage in lieu of lettuce. Chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and green pepper are combined with the cabbage shreds and marinated in bottled french dressing (the orange kind) overnight before being mixed with a final dressing of mayonnaise. It's quite delicious, in an out-of-the-bottle kind of way. But if I were serving it, I'd call it cole slaw anyway.

Well I mentioned that soon I'll have plenty of blogging time on my hands. 'Tis true... Mr.W has been selected for an international business trip and will be away for 20 days or so. And I'll be here missing him, but staying busy nonetheless planning for Thanksgiving. And blogging.

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