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food

CSA (Early Weeks)

The early weeks of a CSA can be pretty much straight greens. It’s intimidating! I belong to a CSA that delivers to my workplace, and I split a share with a friend from work so we don’t get too inundated with any one thing.

The first week of our CSA we got greens – red leaf lettuce and collards – and I took kohlrabi and garlic scapes as well as the greens. It’s been so warm and humid in Baltimore salad seems like the perfect meal, so I’ve been doing a lot of that, including Alton Brown’s Caesar salad recipe.

Plate of Caesear salad
Caesar Salad

A meal I can feature from week one’s bounty is a dinner of braised collards with sausage and penne. I stripped the collards and sliced it thin, then braised it in a little olive oil, salt, pepper, minced garlic and roasted garlic power, and a dash of soy sauce. I added two hot Italian sausages while the penne was cooking, and then dumped the drained penne into the skillet to mix everything up. It was a take on this recipe from The Kitchn — which I didn’t have quite the right ingredients for, as usual, so I modified. And, voila!

Dish of Sausage, Collards and Penne
Sausage, Collards, and Penne

This second week I took more red leaf and some chard, plus turnips and celtuce. I’d never even seen the latter before!  I’m leaving the lettuce for T while I’m away this week, because the man loves salad; I’m going to blanch and freeze the chard to use later. I featured the turnips in last week’s recipe, testing out our new stove by roasting turnip wedges with parmesan a la Martha. We had that with grilled swordfish in Mama D’s special marinade. Positive reviews all around (except for Cookie who got no fish). No pictures because … the turnips got pretty “crisped” and were not very photogenic.

And as for the celtuce? I’ll have to get back to you. We’re still working on that one!

December

Finals are happening pretty late here this semester, so classes are just today wrapping up, and we only have one day between when students leave and when our winter break starts. For some reason, in my mind I had interpreted this to mean that early December would just fly on by. That has … not been the case. At least on the work front, December has been mostly a grind.

Outside of work, though, the holiday season is bringing the usual flurry of parties and other activities. Last weekend we had T’s office holiday party on Friday, which was fun and I finally got to see the inside of his workplace, and a Belgian-themed dinner party with some friends. It was delicious – I’m so lucky to have friends who can cook – and we had a leek tart, carbonade flamande, and I made profiteroles with chocolate sauce (the ice cream was store bought).

Profiteroles
Profiteroles!

Sunday we got up early to try and track down a snowy owl at North Point State Park (no luck), and got stuck in a bit of a snowstorm coming home. We’d made plans to meet friends for the Mayor’s Christmas Parade, but after that was snowed out, we went for piping hot Mexican food instead. Tuesday I got a snow day (poor T only got a late start) which I used to catching up on my reading for book club Friday (Pigeon English) and do a little baking.

Whole Wheat Banana Walnut Bread
Whole Wheat Banana Walnut Bread
Peanut Butter Brownies
Peanut Butter Brownies (With Sunken Middles)

In anticipation of some upcoming travel – San Francisco with the family for Christmas, Philadelphia with T for Midwinter – I bought myself a new camera and have been getting used to it over the last few days. Cookie hasn’t been well-pleased by this turn of events …

Cookie
Cookie

Shame

It’s a lovely fall weekend here in Baltimore – bright and crisp outside, and full of colors. My baseball season has been extended by the Red Sox, even though nobody around here wants to hear about that.

Cat on radiator
Cookie thinks it’s the perfect time of year to be wearing a fur coat!

I had the urge to bake on Sunday, the first time in a long time, and was ashamed to discover that my beloved KitchenAid stand mixer had gathered a fine layer of dust over the summer months! Something, obviously, had to be done. And if I discovered that I was short a few liners for the muffin tins, then, I’d MacGyver some liners from tiny truffle cups.

Perhaps inspired by the Sox (sorry!) I dug out an old favorite recipe from my days in Boston. I printed the recipe years ago, and it’s quite beaten up, but luckily the website is still up: http://www.cookingforengineers.com/recipe/181/Cheesecake-Cupcakes. I’ve made a number of ‘variations’ on the recipe – using cherry pie filling as a garnish, swirling in some Nutella or melted chocolate, or using chocolate wafer cookies as a “crust”. This time, I topped half the cheesecakes with a few chocolate chips to liven them up.

Cheesecake Cupcakes
Cheesecake cupcakes with chocolate chips.

Yum!

Casserole o’Clock

Fall, fall, fall. I love fall. It’s on of the few seasons in the mid-Atlantic region I enjoy – the here tend to be unremittingly miserable and the winters bland. After a Baltimore summer, it’s nice to get back into cooking and especially baking as the weather cools.

Our CSA is winding down, and we’re getting a lot of squash and broccoli in our share. One of the recipes on repeat in our apartment is now an old recipe for a rice and cheddar casserole with broccoli; I almost always have the ingredients on hand, and it can even be a good use for leftover rice.

The recipe comes from my mother’s copy of The Missouri Cookbook: Sesquicentennial Edition (1821-1971). It was her gift for serving as my aunt’s (my father’s sister) bridesmaid, and is inscribed by my grandfather, who was a state representitive around that time. I find the fact that he inscribed it hilarious, though I can’t say why. Perhaps because it’s proof that my mother met my father’s family before they got married, and she should have known what she was getting into!

The recipe is typical in that it doesn’t give “reliable” measurements, so one had to guess what’s a package and what’s a can in reference to 1971 Missouri sizes. I usually use brown rice, and so will add chicken broth or extra water to step two, since I find brown rice, especially a day or two leftover, seems to absorb more liquid.

Broccoli Rice Casserole

Ingredients
1 cup rice
4 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
1 package frozen broccoli (or equivalent fresh)
1 can cream of mushroom or cream of celery soup
grated cheddar cheese

Instructions
1. Cook rice.
2. Melt butter in a large Corningware casserole. Cook onions, then add broccoli with a small amount of water and cook until broccoli is almost done.
3. Add cooked rice, soup and grated cheese. Mix together. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Three-point-oh

It’s official – I’m 30! It seems to me that all the commentary leading up to turning 30 was more eventful than the birthday itself. T and I went to fondue dinner, and then watched the USA/Mexico World Cup qualifier.

Cheesy delicious fondue!
Cheesy delicious fondue!

30 doesn’t seem to be a huge deal so far, or at least, I haven’t needed a hip replacement yet. There has, however, been a lot to enjoy about September, not the least of which was the US qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. Foyle’s War is back on PBS! Cookie got a clean bill of health at the vet, and I’ve sampled some very excellent poutine.

Poutine!
Poutine!

The Red Sox are in the playoffs, and college football is back. I’m glad to have some fellow college football fans to watch games with, even if we don’t always root for the same teams, or even teams playing at the same time.

Watching football on the big screen, and keeping score on the little screens.
Watching football on the big screen, and keeping score on the little screens.

I have read some truly good books: Scott Lynch’s “The Republic of Thieves“, Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl” (I also loved her “Eleanor and Park“), and Elizabeth Wein’s “Rose Under Fire“. And as you can guess, there’s more to come.

Pile of books
Book overload

I’m headed home to Chicago for a few days, for the wedding of a friend. A friend since middle school, actually, a statement that makes me feel older than being 30 ever will.

App vs. App

I’m back after an unintentional hiatus with a quick app review (and request!) A new semester started here this week, and the hustle and bustle was enough to get me to finally go see my doctor about a problem I’ve been having for a while now with fairly intense fatigue. I am pretty good about getting enough sleep, and usually wake up okay, but in the afternoons and on weekends I have a problem staying awake if I’m doing anything sedentary – reading, watching a movie, as a passenger in a car. The doctor didn’t find anything immediately wrong, which is probably good but just begins a long process of elimination, in which the next step is a sleep study. 

Both with the doctor and in preparation for the sleep study, I’ve been fielding a lot of questions lately about my sleep habits, exercise, eating/drinking, smoking/drugs, etc. (Don’t worry, nothing at all to report on the latter. Calm down, Mom!) I’m pretty confident with my tracking of my sleeping and activity, but not so much on the food front. I’ve been playing around with two different website-and-app combinations, both of which I read about online, but I’m not 100% satisfied with either.

Lose It! – Free app and website, with a paid “premium” option. The pros include an easy to use setup and interface, and the ability to add favorite foods, meals, and frequently used recipes to the database. I find both the website and the app very quick and intuitive, and I appreciate that the app allows you to set up reminders to enter information.

MyFitnessPal – Free app and website, as well. The pros include the ability to track nutrients (or sodium or fat) more easily, as well as water consumption. It shows the information you want to track right on the main interface page, as well as weekly goals for exercise. I find that entering food is a little more time consuming.

Both apps offer social options I haven’t explored yet, and the option to sync with a variety of other devices (activity trackers, wireless scales, etc).

One of my main struggles is that both these apps want pretty specific amounts to calculate calories and other nutritional content, and I’m just not great at measuring things out as I cook. If I’m eating, say, a packet of store-brand instant oatmeal, that information is likely to be in the database, but entering a homemade meal takes much more time and effort, and I still feel like I’m guessing much of the time.

Anybody out there have any tips or tricks for using these sites, or a favorite site I’m not aware of?

Feast

Feasting is a really great holiday tradition – the time and the luxury to work on really involved or rich dishes without feeling (too much) guilt. A few Christmases ago my family had a real treat when my foodie aunt and uncle visited with a tin of homemade truffles, a year-plus abroad in Italy, and The Berghoff Family Cookbook as accompaniments. We feasted, indeed, on Berghoff creamed spinach, penne with mascarpone and walnuts, beef Wellington, and a variety of other delicacies.

It’s shocking to think of it, but but it was more than ten years ago now when my parents hosted our extended family (including two dogs, an unheard-of circumstance in our house) for the holidays. It was, I think, the last Christmas I spent with my paternal grandparents. One of my uncles made some kind of crazy meat pies for Christmas brunch, and for either Christmas or Christmas Eve dinner my mom made boeuf bourguignon for the masses. I remember they slipped a little bit of the beefy wine sauce into one of the dog’s bowls, probably the best Christmas present she ever got.

In recent years my sister and I have taken to making brunch for the family on Christmas morning. While traveling around New Mexico in 2005 I purchased a cookbook for my mom as a souvenir  featuring recipes from the top B&Bs in the region, and it’s been quite a hit for brunch at home recipes. I can’t find a online reference since I don’t quite recall the title, but there’s a spicy egg casserole and a fruit smoothie that have been hits in our family. Another hit that I almost exclusive make at home are these pesto latkes, which are baked in a muffin tin rather than fried. I can use Mom’s food processor to shred a lot of potatoes, though I never quite get them dry and crispy enough.

One of the best things about leisurely holiday eating, for me, is the opportunities for nibbles before the meal. Without the rushing and hecticness* of typical meals, there’s time for a plate of little noms and if I’m really lucky perhaps a fancy cocktail. Traditionally this would be a sour drink of some kind, either whiskey (a Mom classic and Grandma favorite) or pisco. We’ve been really spoiled since my cousin opened his fabulous Chicago bar, The Whistler, a few years ago. As you can see from their cocktail menu**, they have an amazing array of cocktails, and occasionally he mixes up a batch of something new and different for family events.

With any luck, in 48 hours I’ll be greeted by a sight something like this:

Snackies!
Snackies!

 

* Not that holiday meals aren’t hectic; anybody who has seen my sister and I in the kitchen at the same time can tell you that.

** Pro tip: the picture from the Whistler Blog is from my proud aunt & uncle’s Hawaiian honeymoon!

Christmas in the Kitchen

A huge part of the Christmas spirit for me is the food – and drinks! – that come with the season. Christmas in my family is in no small part about eating, from our “traditional” Christmas Eve feasts and tins full of Mom’s cookies to glasses full of Grandma’s favorite whiskey sours and the brunch my sister and I often cook for our family.

In addition to the handmade knit items I’ve given for Christmas, the past few years I’ve had the chance to gift some handmade goodies  as well. A few years ago my friend ET suggested we try making candy to give out as gifts, and those experiments have continued even now that I’m no longer in Chicago. Last year, for example, my friend the hostess had a holiday candymaking party in her kitchen, and we made some amazing pralines and chocolate-peanut-butter buckeyes, among other things.

Not all experiments have been successful – ask me about making homemade marshmallows, please – but it’s been an interesting and fun experience.

 

An early experiment gone awry - trying to knead fondant by hand.
An early experiment gone awry – trying to knead fondant by hand.

Fondant and caramel centers for dipping into melting chocolate.
Fondant and caramel centers for dipping into melting chocolate.

Bunches of homemade caramels, wrapped and bagged.
Bunches of homemade caramels, wrapped and bagged.

Lollipop molds, waiting for flavored filling.
Lollipop molds, waiting for flavored filling.

Giving Thanks

I missed out on the Facebook trend about giving thanks for something every day of November, unfortunately. But I did have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving: an abundance of food that gave us almost two meals’ worth of leftovers, a lively evening with my extended family, and gorgeous weather to top it all off. I’m lucky enough to be able to come home to a warm and cozy house (now that the heat’s back on …) at the end of every day.

T & Cookie the Cat
Warm & cozy!

I pretty much failed on my Thanksgiving  photography – I tried three new recipes and didn’t photograph a single one! I made an older Serious Eats recipe for Green Bean Casserole with a mix of white button and dried wild mushrooms; it was a success, but next time I’ll soak the dried mushrooms for longer and then chop them more finely. I also made the herb-y buttermilk biscuits from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook, though I put the parsley into the biscuits and put chive butter on top, and I made them drop biscuits because I couldn’t find cutters at Target! After a successful cookbook club experience with Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, I made my own cranberry crumb bars with mulling spices, because the leftovers I brought home for T were mysteriously consumed … this book is definitely on my Christmas list!

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, I have as promised gotten a good start into my Christmas knitting. Some gift recipients read this blog, so I won’t be posting any pictures or details yet, but I’m enjoying the results so far! And our mini-fake-tree is up already, so I’m ready for presents to start rolling in 😉

Tabletop Christmas Tree
Tabletop Christmas Tree

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to some Christmas music!

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