Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When Turkey Doesn't Matter...

Life has a funny way of reminding you what is most important.

You may have noticed that last week, during what is usually the culminating culinary event of the year for most food lovers, I didn't even post once. Not a turkey roasting tip, suggestion for the flakiest pie crust, or creative use of pumpkin puree in sight.

While many were busy making preparations for a Thanksgiving feast, my family and I were at the hospital with my Abuela who fell and injured her back the weekend prior to Thanksgiving. She was in excrutiating pain for days. We couldn't do anything to help her or relieve her discomfort. It was torturous for her and for us.

While I had spent the past few weeks doing what I always do - leafing through holiday magazines, planning the dishes that I'd contribute to the spread, daydreaming about the finishing touches that would make everything look just right - my Thanksgiving didn't even remotely resemble what I had imagined. Not even a little bit.

But the funny thing is, I've never been more thankful at Thanksgiving. Thankful for my family, who stuck together to help Abuela as best we could. Thankful for my friends who sent their well-wishes and prayers our way. Thankful for modern medicine and for health care workers. Thankful for my faith and for God's healing.

I always knew that the real meaning of Thanksgiving had nothing to do with turkey, stuffing, sides, and pies {though they certainly make the holiday enjoyable & delicious!}. After this year's experience, I will never forget that.

I'm happy to report that Abuela's surgery went well. She is home from the hospital as of yesterday, and relatively pain-free.

As for Thanksgiving recipes... well, we'll have to make up for lost calories some other time. :)

In the meantime, while we get in the Christmas spirit {and get some rest from worrying & hospital visits!}, I'll leave you with a recipe for Eggnog Mini Loaves that are perfect for sharing with family and friends. Because, after all, we know they're what really make the holidays sweet.





Eggnog Mini Loaves
From Taste of Home Food Gifts Edition Magazine

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 cup eggnog

  • 3/4 cup sugar

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 2 teaspoons rum extract (or dark rum)

  • 1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. In another bowl, beat the eggs, eggnog, sugar, butter and extracts; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened.

    2. Pour into three greased 5-3/4-in. x 3-in. x 2-in. loaf pans. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. *

    *Note: I made this twice, once with 2 eggs and once with only 1 (because I ran out) and both times it turned out just fine. I might have actually liked the 1 egg version better. Also, I made one big loaf the first time & 2 small loaves the second time. Just watch your cooking time if you decide to do that, too.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    Pleasantries, Pork, & Penny Saving

    How was your weekend? {Yes, I realize it's already Tuesday. Running a day late here!} Ours was great. We were actually in town all weekend long for the first time in heaven knows how long, so naturally, we did what any young, exciting couple would do: Nothing. :P

    Ok, not nothing, nothing. We did do some stuff. Like make homemade French bread pizzas, drink wine, and watch free movies On Demand. We checked out a local craft show, stocked up on home essentials {read: about a zillion rolls of toilet paper} at Costco, and watched a LOT of football. Well, one of us did, anyway. And I attended my dear friend's second baby shower on Saturday. If you are under the age of about 28 or so, that may seem like a snooze of a weekend to you... but to us... it was just what the doctor ordered. {I know, I know. But trust me, you'll understand one day.}

    Last week was an interesting one for me. The universe decided to throw me a few curveballs and I am just doing my best to adjust to the changes {which, if you know me at all, you know is not always super easy for a control freak  person like myself.} Regardless, I'm rolling with the punches and heeding my little sister's advice: "Keep calm and stuff your face with pumpkin bread." {A recipe I shall share with you soon!} Is it any wonder that we're related? ;)

    Meanwhile, the hubs and I are attempting a money-saving month, doing what we can to save our pennies. What does that mean? Well... No dining out {Which isn't too difficult since we usually only go out to eat once a week anyway}. No drinks and outings with friends. And no unnecessary spending {like visits to the frozen yogurt shop up the road that we are obsessed with}. That leaves us with resourceful meals at home and finding ways to entertain ourselves as inexpensively as possible. {Hence all the football watching.}

    When we threw our Oktoberfest party a few weeks ago, we bought 2 large packages of pork tenderloin from Costco, half of which was prepared and inhaled promptly the day of the party. The other half was put away to use for a mid-week dinner. While I thought I'd try something new with the remainder, I ended up using the exact same recipe that I used for the party at the husband's request because he enjoyed it so much. This Mustard Marinated Pork Tenderloin received rave reviews at the party, too {and I never got to try it}, so I figured there was no harm in making it again.



    If you're looking for an easy, mid-week meal with tons of flavor that you can pair with a variety of sides, this recipe is for you. Whisk the marinade together, throw in the tenderloin, refrigerate overnight & forget it until you're ready to cook. The result?


    A scrumptious dinner & a happy husband! {And wife.}


    Give it a try!

    Mustard Marinated Pork Tenderloin
    From About.com
    • 1-1/2 pound pork tenderloin
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
    • 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
    • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
    • 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
    Trim the pork tenderloin if necessary. In shallow bowl, combine olive oil, mustard, grainy mustard, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and oregano and mix well. Add tenderloin and turn to coat.
    Cover and marinated in refrigerator at least 8 hours.
     
    When ready to cook, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place meat in a roasting pan; discard remaining marinade. Roast meat for 30-40 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 155 degrees F.

    Cover and let stand 10 minutes before slicing to serve.

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Spa-Dee-Da

    I like being pampered as much as the next {spoiled} girl. There's no denying it.

    Unfortunately my budget and my pampering needs don't always see eye to eye. Sad but true fact.

    For the past two years, I've treated myself to an incredible "Happy Birthday to Me" gift that covers several of the important areas that we girls require but don't often get to indulge in. "Me Time". Check. "Girlfriend & Gossip Time". Check. "Pampering and Primping". Check and check. "Revelling in Complete Luxury". BIG check.


    One of my best girlfriends and I have made it point to keep our tradition of visiting The Spa at the Breakers in Palm Beach for two years running. It was by complete accident that this tradition began. Something to do with my husband, a golfing day, and a post-10 year reunion hangover. But I digress.

    We had such an incredible time last year that I requested we do it all over again this year in preparation for my 30th birthday. My sweet, pregnant friend {who is so ridiculously busy with work & preparing for the arrival of her little one she hardly has time to breathe} kindly obliged and we spent a good part of our Saturday vegging around the opulent Breakers Spa facilities like an indigenous species returned to it's natural habitat. We were made for the royal treatment.

    Ready for pampering.

    Post-pampering lounging outdoors. It's a hard life.
    After pedicures, hours of lounging in plush robes surrounded by gorgeous furnishings, delicious tea {and the most fabulous chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies I've ever eaten}, magazines, girl talk, and what could only be described as "celestial" music; after we tried just about every scent of lotion they had available for complimentary use; we pryed ourselves away from the rich surroundings and trudged back to reality {if you can call what you see below "reality".}

    Paradise.

    The lovely grounds of the Breakers.
    
    This isn't a postcard. Amazing.
    Alas... I shall return next year, Dear Spa. But until we meet again.... I'm treating myself to a "spa lunch" to remind me of the pampering that awaits me. Sigh....


    This recipe for Fish en Papillote sounds fancy, but is really just the best way I've found to cook fish. {I am a perpetual fish over-cooker most of the time.} It is light, healthy, and can be flavored with your favorite herbs and placed on a bed of whichever veggies you prefer. Your fish gets it's own little wrap/steam room spa treatment as it cooks {lucky fish}!

    1. Arrage your fish & veggies  2. Wrap it up in a pretty little parchment pouch. 3. Bake...

    One of my favorite parts of this dish is getting to open up the parchment packet when it's done. It's like a present! And a tasty one at that. :) Enjoy!

    Open pouch & enjoy!
    
    Fish en Papillote on a Bed of Vegetables
    Adapted from Food Network
    • 1/4 of an onion, sliced thin
    • 1 zucchini, julienned {shredded into shoestring pieces - use my handy Titan peeler.}
    • 1 carrot, julienned
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • Sea salt
    • 2 cod fillets {or other white fish}
    • 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed
    • 1 tsp dried thyme, divided
    • 2 pats butter
    • 1/4 cup white wine
    1. Prehead oven to 400 degrees.

    2. In a bowl, mix together the onion, zucchini, and carrot. Add the oil, season with salt, to taste, and toss to combine. Arrange the vegetables on a large square of parchment paper, dividing evenly.

    3. Sprinkle each fillet with salt and thyme, to taste. Lay each fillet on top of the bed of veggies. Top the fish with 1 pat of butter,lemon slices and 1-2 tablespoons white wine. {If you are afraid of spilling the wine everywhere, wait until you crimp the packet almost completely, leave a little opening and pour the wine in at that step instead.} 

    4. Fold the parchment paper around the edges tightly in 1/4-inch folds to create a half moon shape. Make sure you press as you crimp and fold to seal the packets well, otherwise the steam will escape. Arrange the packets on a baking sheet.

    5. Bake until the fish is cooked through, about 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish fillets. To serve, cut open the packets and serve directly in the parchment on a plate {but be careful... hot steam!} or remove the fish to the plate using a spatula, being sure you don't leave the juices behind.

    Monday, November 7, 2011

    Bye-Bye Pumpkin Pie

    Picture this: Shortbread cookie... as a bed for creamy, rich cheesecake...nestling a layer of caramel apple pieces...blanketed by crumbly oatmeal  & brown sugar streusel.

    Now, wipe your mouth. You're drooling a little bit.

    And I don't blame you. These Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping are soooo gooood. {Four "o"'s worth, to be exact.}


    When I saw the recipe for this {from none other than Ms. Paula, of course} I knew it was a must for my Oktoberfest party. Fall flavors of apples and brown sugar and cinnamon all piled into a cheesecake-ish bar? Yes, please.


    This dessert disappeared at lightning speed. It is a perfect, decadent end to any meal and a fantastic addition to a holiday menu. I might just forgo the traditional pumpkin pie this year and bring this to the table instead. Somehow I don't think the pie will be missed. ;)



    Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping
    Slightly adapeted from Food Network
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
    • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
    • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
    • 1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • Streusel topping {recipe follows}
    • 1/2 cup caramel topping
    Streusel Topping
    • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
    • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
    In a small bowl, combine all ingredients.

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly. Press evenly into a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking pan lined with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

    2. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with 1/2 cup sugar in an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Then add eggs, 1 at a time, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Pour over warm crust.

    3. In a small bowl, stir together chopped apples, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Spoon evenly over cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle evenly with Streusel topping. Bake 30 minutes, or until filling is set. Drizzle with caramel topping.

    4. Refrigerate for 3-5 hours or overnight to enjoy cold, though I'm sure you it is quite enjoyable right out of the oven as well.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Lovin' in the Oven - Homemade Pretzel Rolls!

    Something funny happens to people when you tell them you've baked fresh bread.

    No, really. Try it, even if you didn't, just so you can see the reaction. {Although that's kinda cruel. We don't joke about homemade bread in my house.}

    When you tell someone you've baked homemade bread, they get this starriness in their eyes and look at you like you have done something completely miraculous. Like you've just told them that you spun gold out of straw. Or walked on water. Or finished P90X.

    But if you've ever baked homemade bread, you know the truth. There's not that much to it. It's literally flour, and water, and yeast. Nothing out of this world. No expensive truffle oil, or 50 year aged anything, or fancy spice from another land required. And yet, it's so darn delicious.


    I don't mean to oversimplify the breadmaking process, because it is a process. I mean, yeah, there's all the kneading and clouds of flour and preoccupying yourself with other tasks while it rises and all that. But really, it's not all that hard.

    Still, not too many people give it a try.
    I think maybe what makes bread so special is that people know that it takes time. And we all know time is precious and limited, so it's pretty thoughtful to spend yours making something for someone else, even though the yeast is really doing most of the work. It's like telling someone you love them in edible form.

    That might be why my Mom asked for birthday bagels instead of a cake this year. Or why I will never buy expensive perfume in hopes of seducing my husband because I know that the aroma of bread baking intoxicates him nearly to the point of buying me sparkly things. {I stress nearly.}

    That's why when I planned my menu for our housewarming party, I knew I was going to bake homemade Pretzel Rolls {No, not to seduce them. Bad segue. Get your mind out of the gutter.}. They fit perfectly with my Oktoberfest theme. I knew our friends would love them. And, honestly, what warms a house better than that amazing smell coming from the oven?


    The rolls were fantastic with sauerkraut and kielbasa, or on their own. They've got a chewy, pretzel-like outside, and a soft delicious inside. Everyone will love them. And they'll be so impressed with your bread making skills they'll probably nominate you for a Nobel Peace Prize. Or at least think you're really great.

    I'm starting a bread baking revolution. Get in your kitchen and do it!

    Pretzel Rolls
    from Epicurious
    • 2 3/4 cups bread flour
    • 1 envelope quick-rising yeast
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • 1 teaspoon celery seeds {Optional}
    • 1 cup, plus approx 2 tablespoons hot water {125°F to 130°F}
    Preparation:
    • Cornmeal
    • 8 cups water
    • 1/4 cup baking soda
    • 2 tablespoons sugar
    • 1 egg white, beaten to blend {glaze}
    • Coarse salt
    1. Combine bread flour, 1 envelope yeast, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar and celery seeds in food processor and blend. With machine running, gradually pour hot water through feed tube, adding enough water to form smooth elastic dough. Process 1 minute to knead. {My food processor is not big enough for this, so I just used my stand mixer with the paddle attachment and it worked just fine.}

    2. Grease medium bowl. Add dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then towel; let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 35 minutes.

    3. Flour baking sheet. Punch dough down and knead on lightly floured surface until smooth. Divide into 8 pieces. Form each dough piece into ball. Place dough balls on prepared sheet, flattening each slightly. Using serrated knife, cut X in top center of each dough ball. Cover with towel and let dough balls rise until almost doubled in volume, about 20 minutes.

    4. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease another baking sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal. Bring 8 cups water to boil in large saucepan. Add baking soda and 2 tablespoons sugar {water will foam up}. Add 4 rolls and cook 30 seconds per side. Using slotted spoon, transfer rolls to prepared sheet, arranging X side up. Repeat with remaining rolls.

    5. Brush rolls with egg white glaze. Sprinkle rolls generously with coarse salt. Bake rolls until brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Serve rolls warm or room temperature. {Can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm in 375°F oven 10 minutes.}

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    OktoberFeast!

    I know what you're thinking. And, nope, I did not get eaten alive by the creature living in my dining room table. But thanks for your concern. ;)

    The end of the year (!) is proving to be a very busy one around these parts. To say we've had a lot going on would be a major understatement. And I have SO MUCH I want to share with you about the Fall cooking and baking that's been happening in my kitchen.

    But first... Halloween. How was yours? Ours looked something like this:


    We decided to go the cost effective route and make our own Halloween costumes for the second year in a row. This is what we came up with {Thank you, Costco, for the free boxes. And Goodwill for the ill-fitting Dockers and long sleeved shirt for a grand total of $6.}. I chose to be a food item, of course. Does this surprise you at all? {Or were you more surprised by hubby's shockingly white thighs?? Love you, dear!}

    Other than our debut as Scout & S'more, our Halloween was pretty uneventful. We didn't buy candy. {GASP!} We didn't turn on our porch light.  We didn't get one knock at the door. I learned my lesson about Halloween and apartment living long ago when I bought bags of candy and was left with... bags of candy {And very tight fitting jeans as a natural consequence}. So, as grinchy as it may seem, we only partook in adult Halloween events this year and rationalized it by saying that I'm sure we'll pay our dues when we have little Trick-or-Treaters of our own one day.

    While we didn't have our own Halloween party, we did decide to invite our friends over on Saturday for a housewarming party. But not just ANY housewarming party... an Oktoberfest themed housewarming party. Complete with steins, liederhosen, alpine horns {you know, like the Ricola commercials}, and copious amounts of German-ish fare.

    Four pounds of kielbasa. Two pounds of chicken-apple sausage. Four pounds of sauerkraut. Two and a half pounds of German Potato Salad. Mustard Marinated Pork Tenderloin. Homemade Pretzel Rolls. Three different Fall fruit desserts. Hundreds of ounces of beer. {And a partridge in a pear tree. Oops. Wrong holiday.} Not an ounce left over. No joke.

    I'm sure I'll be sharing most of the recipes for these tasty treats throughout the next few weeks... but for now, I'll leave you with an easy, flavorful German Potato Salad recipe that makes a great side dish.


    Hope your October was fantastic, and that your November will be even better!


    German Potato Salad with Bacon Vinegar Dressing & Dill
    Slightly Adapted from Epicurious
    • 2 1/4 pounds medium-size red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
    • 6 bacon slices, chopped
    • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
    • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 2 teaspoons coarse-grained mustard
    • 2 teaspoons sugar
    • 2 teaspoons salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill {or 1 tsp dried dill weed}
    1. In a large pot, boil potato slices until fork tender, about 10 - 15 minutes. Transfer to large bowl. Cover with foil.

    2. Sauté bacon in large skillet over medium heat until brown, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels. Discard all but 2 1/2 tablespoons drippings. Heat drippings in skillet over medium heat. Add onion; sauté 2 minutes. Whisk in next 6 ingredients. Simmer until mixture is reduced to 2/3 cup, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat.

    3. Add onion mixture to potatoes and toss to gently to coat with dressing. Let stand 3 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped bacon and fresh dill; toss. Transfer potato salad to serving platter. Serve warm.