Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Beautiful Dénouement : Holidays 2012

Mom's Christmas Tree. We all agreed this was the best one, EVER. We say that every year, though.
 
Christmas Eve snowfall: Inside Tree, Outside Tree
Christmas Morning Breakfast Tradition: Sticky Pull-Apart Biscuits and Grand Marnier.
 
I woke up on Christmas morning and it looked like Narnia outside.

This is a before & after of the 12-pound prime rib roast that we cooked up on the 26th for my stepdad's family's Christmas gathering. GORGEOUS, SEXY, MEAT.

This is what seating for 19 looks like, plus two high chairs, not pictured.
 
Panorama of the dining room, set for 19.
 
Going totally Central PA for breakfast with my bestie on Sunday the 30th. Creamed Chipped Beef Gravy and crunchy hash browns. Taylor's Pork Roll not pictured.

I made New Year's Eve dinner for my family: Honey Teriyaki Glazed (Wild Caught Alaskan) Salmon with Stir-Fried Veggies.
 
Bubbly. (Prosecco)

The pièce de résistance: Bone-in Pork Loin and Sauerkraut roasted to perfection for our traditional New Year's Day Dinner.
 
This was the first Christmas holiday I have gotten to spend at *near* my home since I was 18. It was desperately needed: by December I was emotionally spent, exhausted and stressed out from work, and just reeling from the whirlwind of a year that was 2012. This year the holidays ended up being absolute perfection; exactly what my somewhat weathered soul needed.
 
I was able to head home quick on a Saturday to help my mom get the Christmas tree and spend the evening decorating it with her. I got to run around town on errands with all the other crazy loons on Christmas Eve doing last-minute things. I didn't have to drive on the Shuylkill Expressway to get home for the holidays. I didn't feel like a visitor, only home for a day or two. I sat by the Christmas tree late on Christmas Eve, sipping amaretto and just staring at it; something about the strings of sparkly lights, admittedly, I got a little choked up it was so pretty... WE HAD A REAL LIVE WHITE CHRISTMAS! I was able to lend a hand in preparing our foods and traditions, and I was able to relax and take it all in. In fact, I ended up spending New Year's Eve at home, with my family, in my pajamas and a robe and, to be honest, there's NOTHING else I would have rather been doing. Seriously. These people, the house I grew up in, it heals me, somehow. I have always known I was lucky; now I truly believe I'm surrounded by some sort of beautiful magic. So, as you can see from the pictures above, I spent my holiday eating and drinking. And reveling in the love and peace and warmth of my incredible home life.
 
Happy 2013 everyone: may it be loving and peaceful and warm and full of delicious food.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012

Okay, we need to have a talk. About these cookies I'm about to give you the recipe for. Yeah. They're pretty much the SH--. Super easy. Super tasty. And most importantly, they're juuuuuust special enough that they make you seem like some chick packing pounds of culinary prowess. That's Martha for you; Stewart, that is.  It's what she does: simple, delicious food that makes the creator seem like a genius.  (Which I am not. Martha is, though. Have a mentioned that I love her?  LOVE HER!)

Almond-Orange Shortbread cookies it would be for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012! I agonized far less this year than last--I didn't give a hoot about impressing people, I just wanted to make a tasty-ass cookie that was full of flavor (and not toooo sweet). This recipe is ridiculously simple, ridiculously easy, and other than having to make a 2nd batch because it didn't make nearly the number of cookies the recipe originally stated, the final product was a total success!

Almond Orange Shortbread Cookies (from Martha Stewart)
via www.marthastewart.com

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • Grated zest of 1 orange (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Directions

  1. Spread the slivered almonds on a baking sheet and place in the oven at 325 for 6-8 minutes or until lightly toasted (golden brown).  You'll know it's time when you can hear them popping lightly or start smell them. Remove from the hot baking sheet and let cool completely.
  2. Make the dough: In a mixer bowl, beat butter, sugar, almond extract, and salt until smooth. With mixer on low speed, add flour and orange zest; mix just until a dough forms. With a wooden spoon, rubber spatula, or your hands, gently mix in almonds.
  3. Freeze the dough: On a piece of waxed paper, form dough into a rectangular log, 12 inches long, 2 1/2 inches wide, and 1 inch thick. Wrap log in the paper, and freeze until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 3 months. If freezing longer than 1 day, wrap log again, in plastic wrap.
  4. Bake the shortbread: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove dough from freezer. (If dough has been in freezer a long time and is frozen solid, let it sit at room temperature 30 minutes so it slices without crumbling.)
  5. With a sharp knife, cut dough into 1/4-inch-thick slices; place on ungreased baking sheet at least 1 inch apart. Bake until edges just begin to turn golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on baking sheet; transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely.

I packed my finished cookies up and mailed them off ($45 bucks to send three small boxes!!! The USPS is a total racket.) to three fantastic fellow food bloggers:  Tricia of Saving Room for DessertAmy of Two True Foodies whose cookies didn't arrive in the greatest condition...I'm sorry Amy, maybe put the crumbles over top of some yogurt as a sub for granola?? Or over ice cream??; and Mike of Semi Sweet. Their blogs are all lovely and OH MY GOSH Mike makes some just incredible cookies, you really must take a gander.

Annnnnd because I'm a total lame-o and for some reason miffed completely on taking photos of the entire baking process (I'm gonna go ahead and blame the wine I was drinking, mmmmkay?), the only photo I have, above, I borrowed from the recipe page on Miss Martha's website...Mine looked mostly like that (they may have been a bit thicker and not quite as perfectly square. My "form dough into a rectangular log" skills are somewhat lacking it seems). So, here's a picture of my little Charlie Brown-esque Christmas tree, that I DID take and is not borrowed!
(HAPPY HOLIDAYS! I am in love with this little tree and there's a really sweet story behind it, too.)

Anyway, these cookies are delightful. They're light and flaky and not heavy at all (like shortbread can sometimes be); I think using powdered sugar instead of granulated has something to do with it, personally. The initial texture of the dough was really velvety and smooth and it baked up just that way, too. And, as poor Amy can attest (wahhhhhh!), they are verrrry crumbly, just the way a shortbread cookie should be! Like I said, they're the SH--.  So, you should totally make them for your holiday party, to share with friends at the office, or just for yourself, to sit with the tin of cookies on your lap with a good holiday flick and a mug of hot chocolate (or hot tea or hot whiskey). Try not to eat the whole tin.

Buon Appetito, Buon Natale!

To learn more about The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, click HERE.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Not Enchilada "Enchiladas"

I'm not sure how this is possible, but the Sunday following Thanksgiving I found myself desperately wanting to eat more turkey. Too much of a good thing perhaps? Could turkey be addictive, was I jonesin'? Personally, I think this is the most likely answer.

At any rate, I had a pound of ground turkey in the freezer just begging (gobbling?) to be cooked up. Since I'm not eating red meat anymore, I use ground turkey as a substitute for most "ground beef" recipes: meatballs, meatloaf, meat sauce, burgers, most Mexican dishes, etc.

Growing up, my mom made these all the time, and they have come to be one of my favorite comfort meals. We called them "enchiladas", which is just totally culinarily and culturally incorrect, but that's what we called them sogetoverit. It's essentially an inside out burrito: meat and cheese wrapped up inside and all the rest of the guts on the top. Eaten with a fork & knife (I'm sure I'm committing some kind of burrito sacrilege with that, but whatev). They are damn tasty. You should make them. IMMEDIATELY.

In digging through one of my mom's cookbooks recently, I came across a recipe for Easy Refritos (refried beans). I love refried beans but the canned versions at the store are often incredibly fatty and salty, and have little to no taste or texture aside from that of almost-dried-out-craft-glue. We never used to add beans to our enchiladas, but I knew immediately that it really would add another dimension to the dish, so I figured I'd try the recipe. Had to be better than canned, right??

Easy Refritos (modified from the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home Cookbook)

1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 1/2 TBL olive oil
2 tsp ground cumin
1 jalapeno, deseeded and diced
1/4-1/2 cup veggie stock
2 cans black or pinto beans, drained and rinsed, liquid reserved
Salt & ground black pepper to taste

In a heavy skillet, saute the onions and garlic in the oil on medium heat for 3-4 minutes or until the onions begin to soften. Add the cumin and the jalapeno, and continue to saute until the onions begin to brown. Add the veggie stock, scraping up and brown bits, and simmer until all the veggies are tender. Add the beans to the skillet and cook for a few more minutes, stirring until the beans are hot. Remove the skillet from the heat. Using a potato masher, thoroughly mash the beans while adding as much of the reserved bean liquid as necessary to reach a soft, spreadable consistency. Add black pepper to taste, serve hot.

Momma's Enchilada's
1 pack whole-wheat flour tortillas

FILLING:
1lb lean ground turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, grated
2 TBL canola oil
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 cup salsa
Salt & black pepper to taste
6 oz. shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese

TOPPINGS:
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Diced tomatoes
Sliced black olives
Salsa
Reduced-fat sour cream
Optional: jalapenos, minced onion, guacamole, cilantro

In a skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onions and garlic in the canola oil until softened. Add the ground turkey to the pan, breaking it up as it cooks. Cook for about 5 minutes until turkey is no longer pink. Add cumin, chili powder (you could use more, but I'm not a huge fan, so...) salsa and black pepper. Stir to combine and simmer for about 10-15 minutes until turkey is cooked through and most of the liquid has evaporated. Meanwhile, prepare your toppings.

To prepare an enchilada: spread refried beans down the center of a tortilla (as much as you like), top with turkey mixture, top with shredded cheese, and roll, turning seam side down. (You can throw them in the microwave at this point for about 30 seconds if you like to make sure the cheese is totally melted) Top with salsa, lettuce, sour cream, tomatoes and sliced olives (and any other toppings your little heart desires). DIG THE HECK IN, ALREADY!


I swear the next day all I could think about at work was the leftovers. The beans were delightful--really great depth of flavor despite how quick and easy they were (my apartment still smells slightly of cumin!) and really gave some UMPH! to the heartiness-factor of this otherwise fairly healthy "enchilada." The best part about these is, that they really are fairly healthy (well, MINE isn't, I put half a tub of sour cream on top), so you can eat voraciously with little to no guilt!

Buon appetito!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chicken Marinades

Chicken is the Super-Easy Superhero of the food world.  It's versatility is rather quite limitless, and no matter what form you find it in, it's relatively quick and easy to prepare.  I mean even whole-roasting a chicken doesn't take that long!

For a single girl, recently re-focused on trimming her body down (*cough* new boy in picture *cough*), I have been eating a lot of boneless-skinless chicken breasts.  Now, usually these are devoid of flavor (because fat = flavor and they ain't got a whole lotta fat).  However, with the right marinade and length of time left to absorb said marinade, and the correct cooking time, the formerly drab, plain, slightly boring girl-next-door boneless-skinless chicken breast can be transformed into a gorgeous, plump, juicy little gem of a piece of meat.  
 
It's like going from:          THIS                      to               THIS.

Yeah, I went there with the She's All That, Laney Boggs reference.
Here are three realllly simple, flavor-packed marinades that you can whip up at any time, for 1 breast, or for a great-big, party-worthy batch.

Asian Marinade
Fresh grated garlic
Fresh grated ginger
Fresh lime juice
Low-sodium soy sauce
A smidge of toasted sesame oil
EVOO
Black Pepper
Grill for 8 minutes, or until juices run clear.

Served with couscous mixed with garlic roasted broccoli & roasted mushrooms.

Summer Marinade
Fresh grated garlic
Fresh lemon juice
EVOO
Black Pepper
Dried basil
Grill for 8 minutes, or until juices run clear.

Served with bucatini tossed with EVOO, grated parm, black pepper & a tiny bit of salt.  Peas with roasted mushrooms accompanied.

Italian Marinade
Fresh grated garlic
Red wine vinegar
EVOO
Black pepper
Red pepper flake
Dried italian herb mix (parsely, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano)
Grill for 8 minutes, or until juices run clear.

Served with couscous mixed with parmesan and roasted broccolli and sauteed peppers and onions.

Three totally not boring, super delish marinade that kick your boring fleshy un-fatty breasts up a notch (or 25). 

Buon Appetito!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I am the Anti-Pumpkin.

All I have to say is:

I mean really.  It's time.  Our obsessive consumption and corruption of this beloved gourd-good-for-carving-at-Halloween has reached a point of frenzy I can no longer deal with. 

No one actually LOVES pumpkin.  Go buy a pumpkin, cut that sucker open, scoop out some flesh and go to town.  GROSS.  You'd gag, I bet you any money.  Or a can of unsweetened, pureed pumpkin.  Same thing. 

What "we" (myself excluded) all LOVE about pumpkin is CINNAMON and SUGAR.  Which, FYI doesn't actually occur naturally IN pumpkin.  So, please.  Pumpkin was never meant to be in coffee or risotto or mac and cheese, or alcoholic beverages.  Keep it in pie.  Keep it paired with warm autumnal spices.  But please, stop the obession.  I'm over it (well, technically I was never really into it, I've always hated pumpkin).  You should be too.

Besides, everyone knows the new gourd on the scene is the Butternut Squash.  Pumpkin?  Puh-lease.  SO last season (er, last year, rather).