Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Staggered, Ongoing Christmas...

I had SUCH a busy semester, that I feel like I'm still constantly behind on everything and always playing catch up. So here we are, looking at New Year's, and I'm not even finished with Christmas gifts yet! I have a whole bunch of friends--both local and distant--who have yet to receive holiday treats from me. And I didn't even take cookies to the neighbors like I have done every year since moving here. *sigh* Well, thank goodness that there are 12 days of Christmas! I pray I'll be finished by Epiphany.

To celebrate my friends at karaoke last night, I made a huge bucket of very special snack mix to take a share. It's based on a recipe from Bon Appetit, but I had to make some substitutions based on the ingredients that I could find locally. For example the recipe called for small whole wheat circles, but who can find such a thing in this town? Also, I could only find Wasabi peas which the recipe warned against, so I swapped out those pea pod crisp thingies. I used mostly cashews instead of peanuts (personal preference), and since I could only find Terra Chips and not Terra Stix, I swapped out veggie straws. But those are basically colored Styrofoam, so next time, I will use the Terra Chips or try to find the Stix in Burlington or order them online.

BA Party Mix
(Source: Bon Appetit)
Yield: 12 cups

4 cups Bugles (original flavor)
3 cups whole wheat sesame pretzel rounds or other small pretzels
2 cups roasted unsalted peanuts
1 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 cup store-bought roasted green peas (not wasabi flavor)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
12 large garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoonsWorchestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon English mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika plus more for sprinkling
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups Terra Stix

Preheat oven to 250°. Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add garlic and gently cook to infuse butter, about five minutes. Strain into a small bowl, pressing to extract garlic juices; discard garlic. Stir in Worcestershire, Dijon mustard, mustard powder, salt, paprika, and pepper. Pour over mixture in bowl and gently toss to coat.
Divide mixture between 2 baking sheets and spread in an even layer. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until dry and toasted, about 1 hour. Sprinkle mixture with a few pinches of paprika. Toss and let cool completely on baking sheets (party mix will become crispy as it cools).

Transfer party mix to a large bowl. Add Terra Stix and toss to mix well.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 week ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Update (1/1/15): My friends liked this mix so much, that I actually made a third batch! This time, I used mixed nuts and Terra Chips, which added great pops of color. I also pureed the garlic in the butter and added it to the marinade instead of straining it out (NEVER TOO MUCH GARLIC!), and I added the veggie stix (I had a bag left over) to the mix before baking so they soaked up some of the marinade and acually tasted like something in the end. Lastly, I added a big squeeze of sriracha to the marinade to give the snack mix a bit of a kick. These were definite improvements that I would repeat.

In addition to baggies of the special snack mix, I wanted to make mini loaves of the most awesome banana nut bread in Christendom to take to some of my friends at trivia tonight. But I couldn't find any disposable loaf pans at the store. I was perusing the holiday clearance aisles when I spotted some cute silicone baking molds in the shape of little Christmas village houses and churches--and they were 50% off! (There are some perks of procrastinating on your Christmas baking.) Aren't these little cakes just PRECIOUS, especially after a snowstorm of powdered sugar??

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Accidentally Eating Healthily BEFORE January

Cyd was hungry, but as usual, she couldn't be bothered to go out into the kitchen and actually cook something. So I saw this recipe from Bon Appétit for Chile and Olive Oil Fried Eggs with Avocado and Sprouts scrolling past in my Facebook news feed, and thought, PERFECT--quick, healthy, and looks yummy! Of course, I didn't have any sprouts on hand, so I threw on some fresh spinach from a local farm, Rehoboth Homestead, and I used goat cheese in place of feta. Still, it was DELISH, and so good for you!

Chile-and-Olive-Oil-Fried Eggs with Avocado and Sprouts
(Source: adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2015)
Servings: 2

1 cup sprouts (such as sunflower, radish, or alfalfa)
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large eggs
crushed red pepper flakes
2 sprouted grain tortillas or flatbreads
hot sauce (for serving)
1 ounce feta
avocado slices and lime wedges (for serving)

Toss sprouts with lime juice in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high. When oil is hot, crack both eggs into skillet and season with salt and pepper. Oil should be bubbling around eggs from the start. Cook, rotating skillet occasionally, until whites are golden brown and crisp at the edges and set around the yolk (which should be runny), about two minutes. Add red pepper flakes to oil and remove pan from heat.

Meanwhile, heat tortillas over a gas burner until just warmed and slightly charred in spots (or warm in the oven or a toaster oven).

Mound sprouts on tortillas and top with fried eggs. Spoon chile oil from skillet around and drizzle with hot sauce. Crumble feta over, and serve with avocado slices, lime wedges, and more hot sauce.

Friday, December 26, 2014

MERRY (Belated) CHRISTMAS 2014!

Like a tardy Christmas miracle, Cyd finally arose from her sick bed late this afternoon in a somewhat chipper mood (chipper for her, anyway) and declared that she was very hungry. So we prepared the holiday feast that was meant for yesterday: Prime rib coated with a wet rub of minced garlic (about a thousand cloves), cracked black pepper, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, coarse salt, and my new favorite Green Mountain Mustard (Clove Encounter with garlic and oregano), skin-on red and yellow potato wedges sprinkled with Cajun seasoning and roasted underneath the prime rib, and Prince William vegetable medley (green and yellow wax beans, baby carrots and broccoli florets) in a warm vinaigrette. And I doused both the meat and potatoes with a savory onion au jus before serving. Oh, and mud pie for dessert! ‪#‎nailedit‬ ‪#‎MerryChristmastoUs‬

Ice cream pies are about the easiest dessert you can make, and still, everyone is always impressed. This one is my very favorite! I bought a chocolate crumb crust and a carton of all-natural coffee ice cream, and by the time I got home from the store, the ice cream was softened enough to scoop it all into the crust and smooth it with the back of a big spoon. Then I covered the pie and returned it to the freezer, and when it was frozen firm again, I topped it with some leftover ganache that I had in the fridge (reheated briefly in the microwave), chopped roasted almonds, and garnished with whipped cream. TA-DAH, Marvelous Mud Pie!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Karaoke and Cookies

This year has had its ups and downs with more than our fair share of downs, I would say. One of the pervasive issues has been my roommate's almost constant illness for which, after countless tests, the doctors still can't form an apt diagnosis nor an effective treatment plan. As she is often down for the count, that leaves me on my own a lot, and as a very gregarious and highly extroverted person, that is a real bummer.

So last summer, I auditioned for a musical revue at the college where I teach and made friends with lots of people in the large cast. I started going to karaoke with them one or even two nights a week, and then this semester, I performed with most of the same gang in Legally Blonde the Musical, which was a BLAST! Though I've had some tough times this year, the best and happiest moments have had one common denominator: I spent them with these amazing theatre geeks that welcomed me into their strange little family of friends, even though I am the decrepit old lady of the group. (Tee hee.)

Sadly, Cyd was sick again today, so I spent Christmas in the kitchen alone, baking cookies while listening to the Into the Woods soundtrack. But later, I will join my theatre pals to see Into the Woods, and then attend a special Christmas karaoke night. To show my appreciation to my friends for accepting me into their crazy gang, I wanted to make festive packages of homemade cookies for them. I could have made something very fancy, but I recently participated in a discussion on Facebook, and when asked to name their favorite Christmas cookie, almost everyone in the thread mention the same one, though by many different names: Mexican Wedding Cookies, Russian Tea Cakes, Butternuts/Butterballs, Polvorones, or Snowballs. So that's what I decided to make...with much love to friends at the holiday season.

Snowball Cookies
Source: Cooking Classy
Yield: 2 1/2 dozen (I only got about two dozen)

1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoon cornstarch
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (I used a whole cup)
1 1/2 - 2 cups powdered sugar, for coating

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix butter on medium speed until creamy, about 20 seconds. Blend in 2/3 cup powdered sugar and salt. Mix in vanilla. Sprinkle cornstarch over mixture (just so it doesn't blend into one area), then with mixer set on low speed slowly add in flour and mix just until combine. Stir in pecans. 

Scoop dough out one tablespoon at a time and roll into a ball, then place balls on Silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheets and bake in preheated oven for 15-17 minutes, until bottom edges are lightly golden (don't underbake these). Remove from oven and allow to cool several minutes then while cookies are still warm, pour two cups powdered sugar into a bowl and roll cookies in powdered sugar. Transfer to a wire rack to cool then once cookies are cool, roll in powdered sugar once more, this time to generously coat. Store cookies in an airtight container.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Chopped: Lebanese-Style

I had no desire to get dressed and go to the store today to buy something to make for dinner, so I started digging around in the fridge and unearthed some leftover brown lentils. Then I made some steamed rice, caramelized a couple of onions and some garlic in olive oil, added some cumin and a good splash of hot pepper vinegar, and TA-DAH, mujadarrah--Lebanese lentils and rice with fried onions--served with a big dollop of Greek yogurt (or sour cream)! ‪#‎MeatlessTuesday‬


4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons butter
2 large sweet onions, very thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 cups cooked brown lentils
1 1/2 cups steamed rice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon hot pepper vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream)

Add two tablespoons of the olive oil and butter to a skillet over medium heat and cook the onions until dark golden brown. In the last five minutes of cooking the onions, add the garlic and continue cooking. 

Reheat the lentils (I microwaved mine), then combine with the steamed rice. Drizzle in another couple of tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle in the cumin and hot pepper vinegar, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a big dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream.

Follow-up 12/24: If you have leftovers, the next day for breakfast/brunch, reheat the mujadarrah and top with a couple of fried or poached eggs, douse with hot sauce, and top with sour cream. YUM!!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

An Anglophile's Birthday

My friend, Dana, was having her 30th birthday party, and her husband, Jon, wanted to celebrate her with a group dinner inspired by her two favorite shows: Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey. He called it The Feast of Beasts, and he prepared goose, venison, and elk, and also roasted root vegetables. I think I may have misunderstood the assignment, as he went medieval, and I went with English pub food--Toads in the Hole and Mushy Peas. Oh well. It was a gesture, Claree, and a tasty one at that!

Toads in the Hole with Onion Gravy
(Source: adapted from Jamie Oliver)

sunflower oil (I might omit this next time)
8 large quality sausages (I used 10 beer-infused brats)
4 sprigs fresh rosemary (I did not use this)

For the onion gravy:
2 large red onions, peeled and sliced (I used sweet onions)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 level tablespoon organic vegetable stock powder, or 1 vegetable stock cube (I used a teaspoon of mushroom soup base)

For the batter:
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup AP flour
1 pinch salt
3 eggs

Mix the batter ingredients together, and put to one side. To make the batter to go huge, the key thing is to have an appropriately-sized baking tin – the thinner the better – as we need to get the oil smoking hot.

Put just under a half inch of sunflower oil into a baking tin, then place this on the middle shelf of your oven at its highest setting (475ºF). Place a larger tray underneath it to catch any oil that overflows from the tin while cooking. When the oil is very hot, add your sausages. Keep your eye on them and allow them to colour until lightly golden. (My Yorkshire pudding turned out quite greasy, so in the future, I would either cut way back on the oil or omit it altogether and just use the rendered fat from the sausages.)

At this point, take the tin out of the oven, being very careful, and pour your batter over the sausages. Throw a couple of sprigs of rosemary into the batter. It will bubble and possibly even spit a little, so carefully put the tin back in the oven, and close the door. Don't open it for at least 20 minutes, as Yorkshire puddings can be a bit temperamental when rising. Remove from the oven when golden and crisp.

For the onion gravy, simply fry off your onions and garlic in the butter on a medium heat for about five minutes until they go sweet and translucent. You could add a little thyme or rosemary if you like (I used 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme). Add the balsamic vinegar and allow it to cook down by half. Add the bouillion or soup base plus a cup of water. Allow to simmer until it reaches a desired consistency, and you'll have a really tasty onion gravy. Serve at the table with your Toads in the Hole, mashed potatoes, greens and baked beans or maybe a green salad if you're feeling a little guilty! (I served mine with mushy peas, recipe to follow.)

Mushy Peas
(Source: adapted from All Recipes)
Serves 8

2 lbs. frozen green peas
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring a shallow pot of lightly salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add frozen peas, and cook for three minutes, or until tender. (I nuked mine for about ten minutes with a little water added.)

Drain peas, and transfer to a blender or large food processor. Add cream, butter, salt and pepper to peas, and process until blended, but still thick with small pieces of peas. Adjust seasonings to taste, and serve immediately.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cookie Party 2014 and My All-Time FAVORITE Cookie!

Preparations for this year's Padula Cookie Party began rather disastrously. Because of last week's snow storm, we had to have a makeup day for finals on Saturday (UGH!!), so I was busy at school all day. Thus, I had precious little time to get my cookies ready for the exchange yesterday.

I had decided to make my all-time favorite cookie, Chocolate-Glazed Pecan Toffee Bars, from a special Christmas cookie volume by The Joy of Cooking. However, the snow storm screwed me over in another way. As you can see in the picture, the snow from the roof dumped into a big mountain just inside the fence and porch railing, giving my youngest dog, Dollop, the opportunity to scale said mountain and access the shortbread dough that I (stupidly) had chilling on the porch rail.

It also gave her a possible means to escape, so at one point, we panicked and thought she had run away (and possibly been hit on the busy road in front of the house). That about gave me a heart attack, but when we realized that she was safe on the other side of the house--thank God--I found the base of my quadruple batch of cookies looking like this (which made me want to kill that little b*tch with my own bare hands):

So I had to make another half batch of dough to repair the damage, which set me even further behind. When I finally left the house, I was extremely late and in a panic, and I didn't realize that my roommate had parked her car directly behind me, which she never does. Unfortunately, I came to realize this fact when I smashed into her car and dented it. I was running short on Christmas miracles today, that's for sure! But when I arrived at the lovely luncheon and saw my friends and all of the delicious German food that Janice and Domenica had lovingly and painstakingly prepared, from that point on, my troubles began to seem miles away. Here's a short photo essay of the grand affair:

The place setting, complete with the traditional German pickle ornament.
The beautiful Weihnachten tablescape.
Christmas dolls that Janice and Domenica made. Their bodies are figs, and their heads are walnuts. So cute!

The delicious German meal! Clockwise from the bottom: There was smoked ham from the German butcher in Lacolle, QC, sweet and sour red cabbage (rotkohl), potato pancakes with homemade applesauce and sour cream, cheesy spaetzle, and (in the middle), these ginourmous, fluffy, lemon-scented dumplings with butter.
A sampling of desserts, including German cookies, and this amazing cake called a Schichttorte that Domenica made that had 20 layers then was covered in chocolate and garnished with almonds. WOW!
This year's cookies ready to be swapped! (I put mine in the cute little Santa and Rudolph bags in the middle of the table.)

I made EIGHT batches of the toffee bars (=128 pieces), which was plenty for the cookie party, for another Christmas gathering with different group of friends that evening, and I still had a lot left over. Today was an extremely difficult day at school, not only because I needed to get all my final grades done (seven classes' worth), but because the president had informed us that we would be facing layoffs and would be informed today. So we all got to sit at our desks most of the day, waiting for the phone to ring to find out if we still had a job or not. JUST TERRIBLE! Thus, I decided to bring the remainder of the cookies in to share with my colleagues to cheer us all up a little. Here's what was left by this afternoon. I think people liked them. (Tee hee.)

Chocolate-Glazed Toffee Bars
(Source: adapted from The Joy of Christmas Cookies)

Grease an 8 x 8-inch baking pan (double for 9x13, quadruple for a half sheet pan)

Whisk together thoroughly:
2/3 cups AP flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Sprinkle over the top: 4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

Using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingertips, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Sprinkle over the top and stir in to blend two teaspoons milk. Knead until the milk is distributed and the particles begin to hold together. If necessary, add a teaspoon or two more milk, until the mixture holds together but is not wet. (Alternatively, in a food processor, process the dry ingredients and butter in on/off pulses until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs; be careful not to overprocess. A bit at a time, add the milk, and process in on/off pulses until the particles begin to hold together; if necessary, add just enough additional milk so the mixture holds together but is not wet.) Firmly press the dough into the pan to form a smooth, even layer. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the chilled dough for 10 minutes; set aside to cool slightly. Toast, stirring occasionally in a baking pan, until very lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes: 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (I do this in a dry skillet on the stove top.) Set aside to cool.

Combine in a medium, heavy saucepan and, stirring frequently, bring to a boil over medium heat:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons clover honey
1 tablespoon milk
1/8 teaspoon salt

Boil the mixture, uncovered, for 3 minutes; remove from the heat. Stir in the toasted pecans along with one teaspoon vanilla. Spread the mixture evenly over the baked layer. Bake until the crumb mixture is bubbly, golden brown, and just slightly darker at the edges, 17 to 20 minutes. Remove the pan to a rack to cool slightly.

Sprinkle over the top: 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips. Let stand for several minutes until the chocolate chips partially melt, then smooth across the surface with a table knife to partially spread the chocolate. (The surface should not be completely covered with chocolate. I prefer it to be evenly covered, so I use another couple/few tablespoons of chocolate chips.) Sprinkle over the top two tablespoons finely chopped pecans.

Let the chocolate cool until thickened but still slightly soft, then cut into bars; let cool completely before lifting the bars from the pan. Retrace the cuts to separate the bars, if necessary.

Yield: Twenty-four 2-2/3 x 1-inch bars (I prefer to cut 16.)

Sunday, December 07, 2014

My Book Club Goes Down Undah

For my book club this time around, we read this terrific book by an Australian author named Liane Moriarty. It was very well done, and a real page-turner. Even though I am in the thick of finals, I still managed to read it in a week. I could hardly put it down! So for our food theme, of course, we headed Down Under.

For an appetizer, I brought a shrimp ring, but I chucked the pre-packaged cocktail sauce, and fashioned a sauce with mayo, BBQ sauce, and hot sauce. Shrimp in a Barbie Sauce, get it?? Ha ha.
Other appetizers included these little puff pastry cups  with baked brie (bottom left) and sausage rolls (bottom right--something a hostess serves at a party in the book). At the top right was some crusty bread spread with a sundried tomato pesto, and also appearing in this photo (top left) was a delicious lamb curry pie that one of the book club members bought at a pie shop in Montreal. It was DELISH!

Because I knew there would be several other meat dishes at this affair, the entree I brought was a vegetarian cottage pie with lentils, butternut squash, and mushrooms. Everyone loved it, and I got several requests for the recipe. I honestly think it would fool carnivores, as it has a very "meaty" flavor and texture. Here's how I made it:

Vegetarian Cottage Pie with Lentils, Butternut Squash, and Mushrooms

Mushroom, Squash and Lentil Filling:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
8 oz. sliced crimini (Baby Bella) mushrooms
10 oz. frozen cubed butternut squash
2 cups cooked brown lentils
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons double-concentrated tomato paste
1 generous teaspoon red curry paste
1/2 cup beef gravy (or two tablespoons corn starch, plus one cup of beef broth)

Potato Topping:
3 1/2 to 4 cups mashed potatoes (already prepared on the drier/chunkier side)
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup shredded cheese of your choice (I used an Italian blend)
garlic and herb seasoning, to taste
pinch of paprika
sprinkling of grated parmesan

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, celery, carrots, and mushrooms until the veggies are tender. Stir in the squash, lentils, thyme, pepper, tomato paste, red curry paste, and gravy. (If you don't have gravy, after the initial veggies are tender, stir in two tablespoons of corn starch and a cup of beef stock and cook until thickened, then stir in the rest of the filling ingredients.) Put the filling into an ovenproof baking dish.

Combine the mashed potatoes with cream, shredded cheese, and seasoning. Stir to combine. Spread evenly on the top of the veggie filling, rake all over with the tines of a fork, and sprinkle with paprika and grated parmesan cheese.

Bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes until GB&D.

Here are just some of the dessert offerings (clockwise from bottom left): Anzac biscuits, mini cherry cheesecakes, and some sort of chocolate bars with chopped-up biscuits in them called Hedgehog Slices.
The dessert  brought was a baked rice custard with cinnamon and nutmeg (that all swam to the right because of my wonky oven, no doubt) and orange-infused dried cranberries in place of the traditional (but icky, IMHO) raisins. It was fine, but not mind-blowing or anything.
The real showstopper of the evening was this pavlova (also featured in the book). I look how the chef decorated it with strawberries and kiwis--red and green for Christmas. How festive!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Settlers of Chazy Lake

Literally YEARS ago (four maybe?), I asked for and received a board game for my birthday, Settlers of Catan. But the instruction booklet was so thick and intricately detailed that everyone was sorely afraid and no one would play it with me. When I was complaining about this at some point, my friends, Joanna and Donnie, told me that their family plays, and that their son, Josh, was particularly good at being the explainer/moderator. Thus, we have been saying for a couple of years now that we should get together and play when Josh was in town. Well, it FINALLY happened! Tonight, the Jacksons invited me and another dear friend, Tracy, over for a rousing post-Thanksgiving evening of Settlers of Catan. They made the poor newbs play as a team, but Tracy and I didn't do too badly for our first time. We managed to build a few settlements and a city, but that dreaded robber kept thwarting our expansion plans. Still, they told us that we came in second place out of four teams. YAY! And I enjoyed the game. It's kind of like Agrarian Monopoly.

Of course, the real reason to get together with friends is the smorgasbord of snacks, especially as the Jacksons and their daughter and son-in-law, the Vaillancourts, own Woven Meadows Farm in Saranac, NY and make delicious cheeses from the milk from their dairy cows. As for my own contributions to the party, I made a roasted bacon and corn dip that was tasty, but looked rather unsightly and more than a little vomitous. (No one seemed to mind, though, and I brought home an empty dish.)

However, I was most proud of the cake that I made especially for the party's hostess and my dear friend, Joanna, who is a big Anglophile (she and her husband actually lived in England for awhile while they were both in the service). It was a pumpkin cake that, instead of being heavily spiced with traditional flavors like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, was flavored more delicately with Earl Grey tea. I know, right? I didn't think the delicate tea flavor would come through, but it did so beautifully and added lovely notes of citrus. Just DELICIOUS! I followed the recipe pretty closely, except that I doubled it and baked it in a Bundt pan so that the cake was party-sized.

My only boo-boo was trying to turn out the extremely tender and moist cake too soon and losing some of the top of it on the dismount. So I just covered my sin with a voluminous cloud of tea-spiked cream cheese frosting, and none was the wiser. (Tee hee.)

Earl Grey Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
(Source: Dianna Muscari, Honest Cooking)

1/4 cup milk
2 Earl Grey tea bags
1 cup all-­purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
scant 1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Earl Grey Cream Cheese Frosting:
2 tablespoons milk
1 Earl Grey tea bag
4 tablespoons butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8 inch baking pan with foil and spray with non­stick cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Heat milk to steaming and steep tea bags in it for about 5 minutes. When finished steeping, squeeze out the tea bags carefully with the back of a spoon to get maximum flavor from each bag.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
4. In a small bowl, beat together eggs, vanilla extract, pumpkin puree and vegetable oil until thoroughly combined.
5. Add wet mixture to dry mixture and stir until just combined.
6. Pour batter into prepared baking pan. Bake for about 35-45 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before frosting.

1. Heat milk to steaming; steep tea bag in milk for about five minutes. When finished steeping, squeeze out the tea bag carefully with the back of a spoon to get maximum flavor. Set aside.
2. In a medium bowl using a hand mixer, cream together butter and cream cheese until mostly smooth. Slowly beat in powdered sugar until incorporated.
3. Add about one tablespoon of tea­steeped milk. Add vanilla extract. Beat until smooth. (If the consistency is too runny, add a bit more powdered sugar. If it's too thick, add some more milk.)
4. Frost cooled cake completely. Sprinkle with cinnamon for garnish, if desired. Slice and serve.

Note: This recipe can easily be doubled and baked in a Bundt pan (increasing the cooking time, of course--I think mine took just over an hour, but I would start checking at 55 minutes and every five minutes thereafter until a tester comes out with just moist crumbs). 

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Stop what you're doing. Go to the kitchen. Get out your leftovers. Make this magnificent Thanksgiving turkey panini.

Use Puerto Rican bread (or your favorite type of sub roll) spread with a small amount of butter and toasted on a griddle. When golden brown, spread one side with your favorite mustard (I am obsessed with Green Mountain Mustard's Clove Encounter), the other with cranberry sauce. Add sliced cheese to both sides (I used sharp cheddar because that's what I had on hand). Heat up some stuffing and add that to the bottom part of the roll. Drizzle with hot gravy, then top with pieces of warmed turkey. Place the other half of the roll (and cheese) on top, and then grill on both sides until the cheese melts, pressing down with a heavy lid or pan (or use a panini press).

For this, you will be truly thankful.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

I have never been so thankful for a holiday in my life! This semester has been CRAZED, far beyond my typical level of insanity. So I eased my way into Thanksgiving prep by sleeping late yesterday, then spending a little quality time with the pups (I have missed them!). The rest of the day I spent in the kitchen, listening to my favorite Sirius radio show, Entertainment Weirdly, and baking pies (pumpkin--pictured before it got its broiled walnut crunch topping--and pecan) while the snow started to fall. I also made my famous cranberry strumpet, and when Cyd got home, we prepped the stuffing to be baked off tomorrow.
Today, I spatchcocked my turkey (which is still illegal in a few states) and covered it with frozen fruits, lima beans, and an ice pack--just because that's what I could readily find in the freezer to use. You see, I was attempting that trick that has been going around Facebook recently, trying to lower the temperature of the breast by ten degrees so that the light and dark meat are done at the same time. And you know, it kind of worked. The thigh meat ended up at 185, and the breast was 175 after carryover cooking. So it did keep it ten degrees cooler as promised, but we need a technique to keep it twenty degrees cooler. Maybe next year, I will try dry ice or liquid nitrogen! (Ha ha.) Even still, the turkey was juicy and flavorful, thanks to the spatchcocking and with a little help from Bobby Flay and his fabulous mustard-maple glaze. 

Mustard-Maple Glaze for Turkey
(Source: Bobby Flay, via Food Network)

1 1/2 cups grade-B pure maple syrup
2 heaping tablespoons Dijon mustard (I used my new favorite Green Mountain Mustard--Clove Encounter with garlic and oregano)
2 heaping tablespoons prepared horseradish, drained (I only used 1T)
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder (I used dark chili powder)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

After the turkey reaches 155 degrees F, begin basting with the maple glaze; continue roasting, basting with the glaze every 10 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 165 degrees F, about 20 more minutes. (I take it to 175 then let it carry over.)

Et VOILA! This year's Thanksgiving feast: Mustard and maple glazed turkey, mashed potatoes with pan gravy, sausage and sage stuffing ("recipe" below), spicy succotash, and cranberry strumpet.

I make a pretty basic stuffing/dressing; I don't feel the need to adulterate it. I use a big bag of white and wheat bread pieces from the bakery, PLUS a bag of cornbread pieces. I sauté a pound of mild breakfast sausage in a stick of butter (oh yeah) with a large chopped onion and four stalks of celery, chopped. I add a lot of black pepper and a tablespoon (up to 2) of poultry seasoning. When the meat is brown and the veggies are tender, I combine everything and add hot turkey stock one ladleful at a time until I reach the desired level of moisture (up to two quarts). Then bake uncovered at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until well browned on the edges.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Legally Blonde the Musical

The thing that is consuming my whole life this semester is that I am performing in our college and community show, Legally Blonde the Musical. Normally, I don't do shows during the school year, only in the summer. But I couldn't resist doing this super-fun and infectiously entertaining musical. And I have a GREAT part that I just LOVE! I auditioned for the small but memorable role of Enid Hoopes (Enid Wexler in the movie), and even though she has only a handful of lines and a few verses to sing, she's a HILARIOUS character!
More importantly, in the last few shows I've done, I've had a terrific solo, duet, or trio, but I really wanted to be in some of the big ensemble numbers with the rest of the cast. And happily, for the songs that I love best in this show, Enid is in all of them! Granted, we have to assume that she had another career, spent time in the Peace Corps, etc. before coming to law school as a "non-traditional" aged student, but oh well.
I just loved this cast SO MUCH, that I wanted to show my affection and appreciation for them once the show got underway. So for opening night, I brought...wait for it...Legally Blondies! And for closing night, I brought something to share that was based on a Greek character, Nikos Argitakos, played by my wonderful friend, Michael Bergman. My dish was called (again, drumroll, please): R.G. Tacos, or Really Great/Greek Tacos! Am I not just the cleverest thing? Har har.

Legally Blondies
(Source: adapted from Taste of Home)

1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped walnuts, optional
1/2 cup toffee bits, optional

1. In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla just until blended. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; add to brown sugar mixture. Stir in chocolate chips (and nuts and toffee bits, if using).
2. Spread into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan. Bake at 350° for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Yield: 3 dozen.

R.G. (Really Good/Greek) Tacos

Seasoned Beef:
2 tablespoons olive oil

2 lbs. ground beef
1 large red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup red wine
juice of half a large lemon

Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat and cook the ground beef and onions until the meat is browned and the onions are tender. In the last few minutes of cooking, add the garlic to the saute, and the oregano, seasonings, and the red wine. Reduce until the wine is absorbed. Remove from heat, squeeze the lemon juice into the meat mixture, and add to a crock pot set on "warm" to serve buffet-style. Include the following items to the Greek taco buffet. 

Note: Gluten-free guests can skip the pitas or tortillas and make a Greek salad, so shred extra lettuce for them.

Greek Salad "Salsa"
Combine the following ingredients:
1 box Campari tomatoes, diced
1/2 large English cucumber, seeded and diced
1 small red onion, cut into thin slivers
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
juice of half a large lemon
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
pinch of sugar, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Other ingredients/toppings:

pitas or flour tortillas
prepared hummus (your favorite kind)
prepared tzatziki with 4 oz. of crumbled feta stirred in (you may wish to thin with lemon juice)
sliced kalamata olives
shredded Romaine lettuce

Thursday, August 14, 2014

There's still time for summery pasta salads!

There is precious little of summer--and my summer break--left, but I am trying to relish every last minute of it! I have been hanging at home, organizing lots of long-neglected home repair projects. While I wait for handymen and contractors to come, I try to tend to some inside projects as well. In fact, it's only 1:30pm, and I already had dinner ready!

I made this shrimp pasta salad, adapting a recipe from Cooking Light. Before serving, I will throw some little cocktail or cherry tomatoes in there for some much-needed color and a little extra flavor. But I already tasted it, and it's YUM! I think I will make a second batch for some friends who are going through some difficult medical treatments right now. This is a perfect dish to share with friends and neighbors, because it can be served warm, room temperature, or cold.

Warm Pasta Salad with Shrimp
(Source: adapted from Cooking Light)

3 cups uncooked farfalle (I used multi-grain rotini)
1 cup canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (I used the whole can, so about 2C)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (I used 2T)
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic (or 1T!)
2 tablespoons chopped capers (I didn't have any, so I swapped out a little minced pickled jalapeno slices)
1/4 cup olive oil plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon seafood or Cajun seasoning
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh spinach (I doubled this)
1/4 cup minced red onion (I used a sweet onion)

*I also added 2 tablespoons each of chopped fresh basil, finely-shredded Grana Padano cheese (or any hard cheese of your choice), and pine nuts. Oh, and like I said, a chopped-up tomato would not be wrong in this.

Boil the pasta according to package instructions. Drain and cool to warm. Toss the drained beans in there as well.

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, garlic, minced jalapeno (if using capers, add those at the end), olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss the warm pasta and beans with the dressing.

In a skillet over medium, heat two tablespoons of olive oil. Toss the shrimp with the seafood or Cajun seasoning ad the lemon pepper. Sauté for about a minute on each side and remove from heat. Add the shrimp (scraping the goodness from the pan) into the pasta and bean mixture. Stir in the chopped spinach, onion, basil, shredded cheese, and pine nuts. Serve immediately for a warm salad, or make a day ahead and chill.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pre-Seasonal Muffins: All of the Flavor, Half of the Guilt!

I thought maybe Cyd might like a break from her daily breakfast smoothie, plus I really miss baking! So I tried to fashion a batch of low-carb, reduced sugar, maple pumpkin pecan muffins. I am very pleased with how they taste, and they are so light and tender! But they are so soft, that they kind of fall apart, at least when warm. Maybe I need to try adding a little of one of those weird binders like xanthan gum next time? An extra egg? Or maybe just a little coconut flour? (Paleo/Primal/Gluten-Free bakers, feel free to chime in down in the comments.) Anyway, these were an admirable first effort!

Low Carb/Reduced Sugar Maple Pumpkin Pecan Muffins

2 eggs (next time, I might try three)
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup Stevia in the Raw
1/4 cup Grade B maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 1/2 cups almond flour (next time, I might try adding a 1/2 cup coconut flour)
3/4 cup pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 325, and line a 12-muffin pan with paper liners.

In a large mixing bowl, fold all ingredients together by hand until well-combined. Use a standard muffin scoop to portion batter into muffin cups, and press down any bumps on the tops with your wet fingers before baking.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown around the edges and a toothpick comes out clean.

Number of Servings: 12

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

CLCA Day 31: What Have We Learned?

Well, this is the day you've dreaded or longed for (because I messed up the counting and thought yesterday was Day 29--oops), Day 31 of "Cyd's Low-Carb Adventure."

Breakfast: "Green" Smoothie with Berries, Spinach, Almond Milk, and Chia Seeds
Lunch: Turkey, Bacon, Pepper Jack, and Guacamole Sandwich on a Whole Wheat Tortilla
Snacks: Pickles, Kouign Amann Pastry (uh-oh!)
Dinner: Roasted Chicken and Mashed Cauliflower with Gravy, Corn on the Cob (an unintentionally YELLOW meal, tee hee)--pictured
Dessert: Fruit and Veggie Frozen Pop

Summary: For thirty days, I promised to be in charge of preparing meals for my roomie and BFF that were lower in carbs but still satisfying, and to keep record of the journey along the way, which I have done to the best of my ability. But to what end? The biggest goal was to regulate her blood sugar better, and whereas she used to take 200-300 units of insulin a day, she has been taking only 20 units at the most since changing her eating. That's AMAZING! Also, she has lost quite a bit of weight along the way. Most importantly, she says that, except for a few things here and there (French fries, for example), she hasn't felt hungry or deprived, and she's keen to continue these kinds of dietary changes. In general, she has felt better, too, but it's been hard to really gauge that since she is still battling a persistent intestinal infection. She sees a GI specialist this week, so we hope he will be able to help her resolve her ongoing nausea and pain.

And as for me, I have learned a lot of tricks and tips to exchange lower-carb foods for higher ones in my cooking, and that it's not about entirely eliminating carbs, but making reasonable exchanges. Just look at her meals today. Even with the decadent pastry that she had as a snack (whoops!), she came in just under her daily goal of 1800 calories (=1756), and also under her goal of 150-180 total carbs (=137), because she made better choices throughout the day. As I was discussing with another friend earlier today (who was having butter chicken for her dinner), if you have your curry over cauliflower "rice," then you can go ahead and have a piece of naan bread; you should just try to avoid having both bread AND rice!

It seems very reasonable and do-able to make your goal 80/20--sticking to your low-carb program 80% of the time, and indulging a bit more once in awhile, but no more than 20% of the time. Interestingly, though I wasn't following nearly as strict a regimen as Cyd was, eating lower-carb by default and just being more conscious of my food choices, I lost about eight pounds myself--and that's after spending a week in Maine consuming my weight in lobster rolls! Ha ha.

In short (too late), I think it was a worthy experiment, one that we wish to continue going forward, especially after she consults with the new doctor this week and gets him to, ahem, weigh in on the matter. And if you're sad to see my daily low-carb food log go away, don't fret. I will continue to post meal ideas and recipes here on my blog--just not as frequently. (I start back to school again soon, and I won't have the time to do this every single day!)

Monday, August 11, 2014

CLCA Days 29-30: Nothing But a Salad to Report

"Cyd's Low-Carb Adventure" (or lack thereof), Day 29
All she ate all day was a fruit and veggie frozen pop because she wasn't feeling well. Boo hiss.

CLCA, Day 30
Late in the afternoon, I managed to compel her to eat this lovely spinach salad with grilled chicken, local strawberries, red spring onions, blue cheese, bacon, spiced walnuts, and blush wine vinaigrette. Oh, and of course, a fruit and veggie frozen pop. *sigh*

Saturday, August 09, 2014

I found heaven in the frozen foods at Trader Joe's!

I may be one of only a handful of humans in all of Christendom who has had the good fortune to savor the two best examples of kouign amann outside of Brittany, France: the DKA at Dominique Ensel in NYC (home of the Cronut--a lesser pastry, IMHO) and the signature baked good of Kouign Amann in Montreal. So I am uniquely qualified to evaluate the kouign amann sold frozen at Trader Joe's.

Are they better than the two superlative versions? No, of course not. But if those two are tens (elevens!) out of ten, the TJKA is a solid eight. And being able to bake them at home, to smell the caramelizing butter and sugar wafting out of your own oven, and to taste the decadently flaky, sweet pastry while still warm? Well, that bumps the experience up to a nine. Plus, they are only four bucks a box (less than the cost of one pastry at an upscale bakery)!

As I took my first bite, I closed my eyes, my head lolled back, and I cried out to my Creator. Now these things have no business being a part of a low-carb diet, of course, or of anyone's diet who wishes to maintain health and longevity. But as a once-in-awhile special treat, it is hard to go wrong with the TJKA. Just thought you should know gentle readers. Do with this information what you will. ;-)


Friday, August 08, 2014

CLCA Days 27-28: Farm-to-Table Fabulousness!

"Cyd's Low-Carb Adventure," Day 27
Breakfast: "Green" Smoothie with Berries, Almond Milk, and Chia Seeds (I added a half cup of spinach leaves to her regular berry smoothie--she liked it!)
Lunch: Take-Out Salad
Snack: Fresh New York Peaches and Whipped Cream
Dinner: "Protein-Style" (Bunless) Cheeseburgers
Dessert: Carrot and Tangerine Frozen Pop (Those Outshine Bars are YUMMY!)

I made my first secret raid on Janice's garden today. I snitched two zucchini, a bunch of Lacinato kale, a few Czech Black hot peppers...oh, and a handful of basil (in my pocket--not pictured). And I used half of this haul (except the peppers) in tonight's wonderful dinner.

"Cyd's Low-Carb Adventure," Day 28
Breakfast: "Green" Smoothie with Berries, Almond Milk and Chia Seeds
Lunch: (She worked though lunch. Hmph!)
Dinner: Creamy Zoodles with Leeks and Bacon and Cheesy Kale-Stuffed Pork Chop with Garden Bruschetta
Dessert: Local Peaches with Whipped Cream, Blueberry Fruit and Veggie Frozen Pop
Midnight Snack: Corn on the Cob (Tee hee.)

I spent two hours in the kitchen tonight creating a most elaborate and fabulous meal! From Bon Appetit, I made Creamy Pappardelle with Leeks and Bacon (with zoodles instead of pasta for Cyd). And then I made up an entrée: brined pork chops stuffed with lacinato kale, onions, garlic, feta and blue cheese and topped with fresh garden bruschetta.

The zucchini, kale, and the basil in the bruschetta were from the garden that I planted at my friend Janice's, the tomatoes were from the farm stand up the road, the garlic and feta were from farms that we visited in Maine, and the cream was from my local milk share. Farm to table, YO!

Kale and Cheese Stuffed Pork Chops with Garden Bruschetta

Pork Chop Brine:
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 cups water
4 butterflied pork chops

Kale and Cheese Filling:
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cups Lacinato kale, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/4 cup white wine (or chicken stock)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

2 large tomatoes (baseball-sized), seeded and cut into large dice
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablesoon olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the kosher salt, sugar and water and mix well to combine. Brine the butterflied pork chops while you make the filling.

To make the filling, add two tablespoons of olive oil to a skillet over medium heat, then saute the onions until tender. Add the chopped kale and garlic and cook until the kale has wilted down. Add white wine (or chicken stock) and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat. When the kale mixture is completely cool, stir in the crumbled cheeses.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Divide the cooled kale and cheese filling into four portions. Remove the pork chops from the brine and rinse well in cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Spread a quarter of the filling onto each of the pork chops. Tie up with kitchen twine (or secure with toothpicks). Add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil to an ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Cook the pork chops until deep golden brown on both sides. Then put the skillet in the oven and finish cooking the chops for about ten minutes (or until an internal temperature of 145 is achieved). Let rest for at least five minutes, loosely covered with foil.

Meanwhile, make the bruschetta. Chop the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and basil and combine in a bowl. Drizzle in the balsamic and olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Gently stir everything together. Top each stuffed pork chop with a couple of generous spoonfuls of bruschetta.

Creamy Pappardelle with Leeks and Bacon
(Source: Bon Appetit, February 2013)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium leeks, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise
*I also added two cloves of peeled and minced garlic.
kosher salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 pound pappardelle or fettuccine
1 cup finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano

Heat oil and butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring often, until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp, 5-8 minutes. Add leeks (and garlic, if using) and season with salt. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, until leeks begin to brown, 5-8 minutes. Add cream, thyme, and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon, 5-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain pasta, reserving two cups of the pasta cooking liquid.

Add pasta, Parmesan, and one cup pasta cooking liquid to sauce and stir to coat. Increase heat to medium and continue stirring, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta.