December 28, 2011

Cherry-Orange-Almond Turtles

To those of you who have had enough already of all the candy and sweets this time of year brings: this post is not for you. To those of you who are still here: I'm glad that I'm not the only one.

I can never seem to lose my sweet tooth, no matter how many baked or frozen sugary desserts I eat. And every year around this time I notice it catching up to me. Or um, er... to my thighs.

Which is very unfortunate since I have a freezer full of chocolate that I received in various stockings from my husband, my in-laws, my parents...

So I have decided to take it out, bar by bar, and try to create semi-healthier concoctions from all that delicious sugar and cocoa. The first idea on my list: turtles. (Why are they called that? So unappealing.)

I melted down a dark chocolate bar (85% cocoa) and added dried cherries (cocoa and cherries- just think of all those antioxidants! It's practically a health food) and almonds for protein to keep your metabolism going just a little longer after dessert. The resulting bar has about 225 kcals and 7 grams of protein each (not bad, eh?). It is just sweet enough to keep my baked-good cravings at bay... for perhaps a week, when all the turtles will have gone extinct. Then, all bets are off.

Cherry-Orange-Almond Turtles
makes 6
3.5 oz dark chocolate (the darker the better), broken into small pieces
zest of 1 orange
3 oz almonds; about 1/2 cup
3 oz dried cherries; about 1/2 cup

Melt the chocolate in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Add zest and mix well. Add almonds and cherries and stir until combined. Pour mixture out into six even piles on wax paper and allow to cool and harden completely before eating. Enjoy.

Question: Does anyone have any foods they can't live without but need lightened up? After all, it is almost the new year... ugh, I can't believe I just said that...

December 21, 2011

Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner

Lame. Four days before my favorite holiday, and I am posting about cleaning supplies? I was going to attempt to pass this off as a last minute gift idea, but it would need to be a given to someone who would not be offended when bestowed cleaning supplies as a present. This lucky recipient would have to be someone you know well, in which case, you probably already have something for them.

In all honesty, the only reason I am sharing this "recipe" with you today is because I ran out of the last batch I made, and so I had to make more.

Sure I am all for saving the environment, but the real reason I like this cleaner is because I can spray it all over without feeling as though I need to hold my breath to avoid inhaling fumes. I can spray it on the counter, wipe, and then set food right down - no risk of chemical contamination. I use this spray everywhere- from the dining room table, to leather furniture, to the kitchen sink.

Here is my advise about the bottle you will use to store the spray in: buy a half gallon bottle of environmentally friendly all-purpose cleaner, then make your own in the same bottle when you run out. This way, your first bottle of spray is pre-made, after that you can begin making your own. Happy cleaning!

Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner
for the record: I didn't make this up, I got the "recipe" from my cousin who got it from her friend
1 tsp vegetable-based liquid soap (such as seventh generation)
1 tsp Borax
1/2 cup white vinegar
20 drops essential oil
warm water

Put the first four ingredients in the bottom of the bottle, then slowly trickle in warm water. Enjoy.

December 19, 2011

Brie and caramelized onion stuffed chicken breasts

I don't claim to be talented at many things. I have no creativity in the arts and crafts department, the only thing that I have going for me in sports is my height, and as for music, well, I turn the volume up to tune out the painful sound of my own voice.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I believe myself to be a culinary genius. This dish is a great example.

I am sure that someone, somewhere has made the exact same thing before, but it all came together in my mind as I cooked it. The sweet onions, the creamy brie, the rich sauce made from a reduction of wine and and broth... and all under an hour and at the cost of just one dirty pan. Perfect.

This would be an ideal holiday meal to serve for friends or family. It can be easily multiplied and as you prepare it there is some simmer time that could be used to prepare side dishes, or refill your guests' wine glasses.

Brie and caramelized onion stuffed chicken breasts
1/2 white onion, sliced
2 tsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar
10 sage leaves*
2 chicken breasts
1/2 cup cubed brie
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup broth
1/2 cup water

Melt butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion, sprinkle with salt and sugar. As soon as onion begins to soften, about five minutes, add sage leaves. Cook, stirring occasionally, another 25 to 30 minutes, or until completely soft and browning in color. Remove from heat and discard sage leaves.
Cut a pocket in both chicken breasts lengthwise, and stuff half of the cubed brie and half the caramelized onions in each.
Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in the pan you used for the onions. Add chicken breasts and cook until they are browned, about 4 to 7 minutes. Add wine, broth, and water to pan and turn heat down to medium.
Cover the pan, slightly vented, and bring liquid to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. At this point, flip chicken, and turn the temperature up to medium-high. As the remaining liquid evaporates, you will be left with a thick and delicious sauce in the bottom of the pan, and the chicken will brown on the other side. Make sure the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees before removing from heat and serving. Enjoy.

*totally optional, I am still trying to decide if I could even detect the sage flavor

December 14, 2011

Basil and Kalamata Olive Egg Salad

Every once in a while, my husband I joke about how we wish we were the type of people who looked at food as fuel, and nothing else. As these non-foodie people we would have much more disciplined work-out routines and we would eat chicken breasts, brown rice, and steamed broccoli for dinner.

But, let's face it, we are not those people by any stretch of the imagination. We like food. He likes red meat. I like butter and sugar creamed together and baked. Despite my indulgences, I do crave semi-healthy food on a regular basis. I don't usually blog about it, because does anyone really want to know about roasted veggies that haven't been smothered in cheese or salad without bacon on it?

My latest semi-healthy craving has been egg salad. I can't stop thinking about it since I had the basil egg salad on kalamata olive bread at Grand Central Bakery. I made up my own version with kalamata olives in the egg salad. They add just the right amount of saltiness. In an effort to stick with a healthful theme I ate some of it over a bed of lettuce. However, if you don't share my present convictions, I wholeheartedly encourage you to eat it on a slice of toasted ciabatta.

Basil and Kalamata Olive Egg Salad
inspired by Grand Central Bakery
this recipe only made about two servings, but it could easily be multiplied

5 hard-boiled eggs
2 tbsp mayo (I used the olive-oil based kind)
1 tbsp good dijon mustard (I love Annie's Organic)
4 or 5 kalamata olives, sliced
1/4 cup torn basil leaves
black pepper to taste

Peel and roughly chop up eggs, place in a bowl. Add mayo and mustard, mix well. Stir in olives, and gently stir in basil. Season to taste with pepper. Enjoy.

P.S. What is everyone making for Santa this year? I can't decide on a cookie, and I need to stop "testing" every recipe I see. I must make something really good since I am asking him for a house in NE Portland for Christmas... any suggestions?

December 11, 2011

Brussels Sprout and Gryuere Bake

Last week, James and I had a slumber party at my mom's house. He loves seeing his Ya-Ya, her black lab, Yogi, and playing with the toys she has collected for him. James favorite thing to play with is the "kitchen" that I used to play with when I was a little girl. 

My mom and dad actually found the little kitchen in an alley while they were driving around Seattle. They called the business in front of the alley and bought the kitchen for thirty five dollars. My parents brought it home, sanded it down, painted it white and put new "hardware" on it. The kitchen is made out of wood, with little china knobs, brass hinges, and glass doors.  It is simple and pretty and, in my opinion, far superior than those expensive, huge, brightly colored plastic play kitchens that are now what you see on the shelves of Toys'R'Us. 

I don't remember the specifics of the culinary masterpieces I used to imagine I was making in my sweet little kitchen, but I'm sure that, like James, I was always very busy mixing, pouring, and generally sorting through the food and dishes in the little kitchen. Of course, my mom had to stock the kitchen with all new dishes and "food" for James.

And, of course, I had to make mini-muffins for him to play with in the kitchen. 

And, of course, he had to eat them.

We left Ya-Ya's house to go meet some new friends at Gabriel Park, and then had some lunch at Grand Central. By the time we made the trek back to our home, James and I were so exhausted that we both took two hour naps. We woke up around four, groggy and in a daze.

All I could think of was food when I woke up (apparently James as well, as he was bringing me his bib and trying to climb up into his high-chair). We attempted happy hour at McMenamins, but the line was so long that we gave up and went home. Luckily, I am the meal planning type, so I had all the ingredients to make this dish.

It was gooey and hearty and extremely comforting. In the end, none of us were upset that McMenamins didn't work out. 

Brussels Sprout and Gryuere Bake
1 lb brussels sprouts
olive oil
salt and pepper
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pasta shells
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1/2 lb Gruyere cheese, grated
1/2 cup bread crumbs and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, mixed together

Preheat the oven to 425. Wash and half the sprouts. Arrange on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil (1 to 2 tbsp). Toss and arrange in a single layer, then season with salt and pepper. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, or until just beginning to brown. 

While sprouts are roasting, fill a dutch oven about half way with water, and bring to a rolling boil. Season water with 1 tsp salt. Pour in shells and cook until al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain noodles in colander over the sink.

With noodles in colander, put dutch oven back on stove top and reduce heat to medium-high. Melt butter in dutch oven, stirring constantly. Add flour and whisk, whisk, whisk so that no lumps form. Add cheese and stir well as it melts. Add pasta and sprouts to the cheese sauce. Mix well. Top with parmesan and bread crumb mixture. Bake in dutch oven (or transfer to oven-safe dish, then top with parm/crumbs) for 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is beginning to brown. Serve hot. Enjoy. 

December 08, 2011

Grapefruit, cheddar, and bacon salad with honey vinaigrette

Okay, here's the order of business: let's talk about the new blog look, and then about the salad.

First of all, the new look of the blog. Not my doing at all. My gorgeous and incredibly talented and creative friend, Jennifer, sent me an email a few days ago asking if she could help to make my blog pretty (everything she touches becomes more beautiful, and I'm not just saying that because she made my blog look like this) and here was my exact response: "Ummm... yes! Are you kidding? YES! That would be AMAZING!"

And so, we played a couple rounds of Pimp My Blog (does anyone get that reference?) and here we are. I may have shed a tear when I saw it.

So, next subject: the salad. I was meal planning while eating a grapefruit, and I suddenly wanted to have my grapefruit on a bed of lettuce, with a drizzle of honey to combat the tartness. Cheese was an obvious addition, but the dish quickly forming in my mind was still lacking something. I really hesitated on the bacon, as I feel it has been a bit over-used to spice up any old dish -"Chicken noodle soup... with bacon!" "Beans and rice...with bacon!" "Vanilla ice cream... with bacon!" -it just gets old. But when I made this salad, I was so glad I added the bacon. The smokiness perfectly balances the other flavors.

Oh, by the way, I found a use for the leftover ravioli filling from this recipe. I boiled some red potatoes, then mashed them with a little broth and added the filling. I also added green onions. And maybe also a little bacon.

Grapefruit, cheddar, and bacon salad with honey vinaigrette
serves two as a main dish
1/4 cup red onion, sliced
2 tbsp honey (or more if desired)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
sploosh red wine (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 freshly ground pepper
2 slices bacon (I used turkey bacon)
6 cups romaine or red leaf lettuce
1/2 cup of cubed sharp cheddar cheese
1 grapefruit, peeled, sectioned, and pulled into bite-sized pieces

Place onion in a small bowl. Pour honey, olive oil, vinegar, and red wine if desired over the onions, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir together and set aside for at least a half hour.

Meanwhile, cook bacon until crispy and assemble other ingredients. Crumble bacon once cooled. Split lettuce between two plates, and top each with half the bacon crumbles, cheese cubes, and grapefruit pieces. Top salad with some red onion slices, then whisk vinaigrette welling before pouring a couple tbsp of dressing over top of the salad. Enjoy.

December 06, 2011

Orange-Pecan Cranberry Jammers

I feel like I should catch you up to date after this post in which I bragged about all of the fun events I was looking forward to.

First was Body Worlds and OMSI after dark. Body Worlds was A. MAZE. ING. Like, the most amazing thing I have ever seen. (Okay, in the top five.) However, I couldn't take any pictures in the exhibit, so you will just have to go see it for yourself. Pictures were allowed in OMSI after dark, but I really didn't want to go all the way out to my car and get the camera after Body Worlds. But I do have some photos from the rest of my activities to share with you...

Friday night was the At First Sip book signing:

Saturday night was Zoo Lights: 

As we neared the exit off 26 for the zoo, we noticed signs along the road reading "Zoo parking full, take next exit." The signs off the next exit led us to a long line of cars that were waiting to get into the packed parking lot where people were being shuttled in school buses to the zoo. After finally parking, we entered the winding line of  teens (all apparently on dates and too cool to be wearing winter gear) and bundled children, parents, and grandparents.

It was, indeed, freezing, but we were happy to be on our way to see the lights and the animals, and James was content to watch the goings-on all around us, as well as the school buses that were quickly filled up, leading us closer and closer to our destination.

Finally it was our turn. We sat near the back of the bus, feeling like excited kids going on a field trip.

Once we got there, Lane's awesome company supplied us with hot chocolate, cookies, and tickets for the train ride, which we didn't go on because the line to go on the train was about twenty two miles long, and we would still be waiting to board.

But no train ride was needed because the lights were beautiful, the animals were not all asleep (poor guys), and the best part was that everyone seemed to be in a joyful holiday mood.

And now, to get to the stinkin' scones already. 

I was going to get up early on Sunday morning and continue our fun-filled family holiday weekend with fresh, seasonal scones. 

But I woke up to a crying child who was whining for the same reason I did the rest of the day: sore throat, headache, faucet nose. (I know, I know, I already felt sorry for myself in the last post...)

So instead of making them Sunday, I began to make these scones in the chaos after a grocery shopping trip on Monday mid-morning. The counters were piled high with groceries I hadn't put away, the floor was littered with pots and pans that I tried to amuse James with, and the scones were made in several stages throughout the rest of the day.

I did learn, however, that they can be made with a baby 30+ pound toddler on one hip.

Orange-Pecan Cranberry Jammers
basic scone recipe and directions adapted and shamelessly copy-and-pasted from Cindy's comment on this recipe
makes 8 scones
1 cup all-purpose flour 
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tablespoons sugar 
1 tablespoon baking powder 
zest of 1 orange
6 tablespoons butter (cut into several pieces)
1 egg 
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup pecan pieces
about 1/2 cup cranberry sauce
about 1 tbsp raw sugar (optional) for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 F. Assemble ingredients.

Food processor instructions: Add first four ingredients to processor bowl. Add orange zest and butter, and process with steel blade until mealy in texture. Add egg and milk and process just until the mixture holds together. 

By-hand instructions. Blend first four ingredients in large bowl. Add zest. Add butter and mix in with pastry cutter or fork or two butter knives, until mealy. Add egg and milk until the mixture holds together. 

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, gently knead in pecan pieces (do not over knead) and roll 3/4" thick. Cut into 8 wedges, and place on lighlty greased baking sheet, spread apart from one another so that they will not touch as they bake.

Bake about 12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown. Let cool a few minutes before enjoying with a hot cup of coffee or tea. Enjoy.

PS They are called "jammers" because they remind me of similar scones I used to get on the weekends from Grand Central Bakery near my childhood home. I don't know if they were actually called jammers, or if that was a name my family made up.
PPS My friend, Katie, just cleared it all up. She sent me this link to the kitchen tour of the genius behind the original jammer. Grand Central Bakery does indeed call them jammers. But I should state, just for the record, the the similarity between these scones and theirs is only in the appearance as I remember it from when I was younger.