December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Most people put kids on their Christmas cards but I think cats are just as cute :)  Here's a look at the front of our card.  The flip side said "This is why Santa doesn't leave presents for our cats." 

I used Shutterfly for the cards and I highly recommend their site.  I've ordered several photo books in the past but this was my first time ordering cards.  I love the fact that you can upload addresses through Excel and have them send the cards! 



Merlot loves milk, so I was fairly confident my photo idea would work, but it took several tries as you can see below.  I'm celebrating Christmas with my parents this morning and tonight Chris returns from Colorado from celebrating with his family!  Just in time to make a trek to the Twin Cities for my brother's wedding, a baptism, and a Packers/Vikings party.

Want to see more cute Christmas cats?  Check out Love and Olive Oil.  I'm really impressed their cats tolerated hats and scarves long enough for a photo.

December 22, 2012

Roasted Root Vegetable Risotto

We'll be away from home almost every day until New Year's, so I pulled everything out of my vegetable drawer yesterday so I knew what I needed to cook before leaving.  I ended up being able to use everything in just two recipes.

The first was a make-shift recipe I created.  I roasted all of the vegetables you see in the photo below except the leeks which were added to the risotto.  The veggies include a rutabaga, a black radish, a chioggia beet, a parsnip and celeriac (aka celery root). 


I roasted the veggies at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, after coating them in olive oil and seasoning with salt & pepper.  I would typically just mix all the veggies together, but I wanted to keep the black radish separate because only Chris appreciates its peppery bite.


Let's take a closer look at the chioggia beet.  Have you seen one before?  I think it's the coolest looking vegetable.  It's an heirloom beet from Italy that came in my last CSA box, as did the black radish, parsnip and celeriac.  The rutabaga was from the winter farmers' market.


I followed a really basic risotto recipe.  3 tablespoons butter, 1 1/2 cups chopped leeks/onions, 3/4 cup arborio rice, 3 cups vegetable broth, and 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese.  No white wine needed, and only occasional stirring required.  Toward the end of the 20 minute risotto cook time, I stirred in the roasted vegetables.


I topped each serving with more Parmesan cheese and salt & pepper.  Such a delicious and easy way to clean out my vegetable drawer!

December 20, 2012

Orzo with Sweet Potatoes & Kale

I tried orzo for the first time this year, and now it's one of my favorite pastas.  The recipe I made today comes from The Kitchn and was a perfect use for my CSA sweet potatoes and the kale I bought at the winter farmers' market this past weekend.



It's funny how different my photo looks compared to The Kitchn's.  Instead of three leaves, I used an entire bunch of kale and I completely missed the part where it said to chop it.  Oh well, it still tasted great!

I like recipes with fairly minimal ingredients, especially when they're ones that you typically have on-hand.  Fresh ginger is not one of those items.  I used to buy frozen ginger when I lived in England and it was so convenient! 
Trader Joe's stocks the same company's basil, garlic and cilantro, so I just contacted them to ask that they add ginger too!  Here's a link to the contact form, if you'd also like to see frozen ginger at TJ's.
I know, I know, I can freeze my own ginger.  In fact, that's what I did today.  I used my Microplane zester/grater to grate the entire piece of ginger I bought and ended up with 11 extra teaspoons for the freezer.
Draco (is this a new thing naming winter storms?) hit Wisconsin hard today, and although we mostly got rain in our area, this was still a great meal to have on a cold, wintry day.



Orzo with Sweet Potatoes and Kale

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25-30 minutes

Ingredients (4 main dish servings)
  • 1/2 pound orzo pasta
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large sweet potato (about 3/4 pound), finely diced (1/4-1/2" cubes)
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 bunch of kale, leaves chopped
  • shaved Parmesan, optional
Instructions
  • Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add orzo, cooking for 6 minutes. Drain and toss with a little oil to keep it from sticking. Set aside.
  • Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil to your largest skillet and heat over medium-high. Add the sweet potatoes, arranging in one layer. Cook for 4 minutes, then stir in garlic and ginger, cooking for another 3 minutes.
  • Turn the heat down to medium and push the sweet potatoes to the edges of the skillet. Add diced onions to the center of the pan and lightly sprinkle with salt. Cook for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, eventually mixing the onions and sweet potatoes together.
  • Meanwhile, whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Pour into the skillet and mix everything together. Cook for 3 minutes.
  • Stir orzo in and cook for another 5 minutes. Finally add in the chopped kale and cook for another minute or so until the kale is wilted. Serve hot with shaved Parmesan, if desired.
Recipe Source: The Kitchn
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December 14, 2012

Friday Five

It's been awhile since I've done a random recap of what I've been up to.  December can be a tough month for healthy eating.  I mean who can resist holiday baking?  Not me.  Therefore I've tried to make an extra effort to include veggies with each meal.

1 - Farro Soup

This week, I made my favorite farro soup with three CSA items - carrots, celery and kohlrabi.  I also added a can of chickpeas and I really liked this slightly modified version.  So much so that I ate it for several meals in a row.



2 - Last CSA Box of 2012

My friend and I have really enjoyed splitting the fall/winter CSA share this season and were sad to divide up our final box last night.  It's going to be a long few months until my next CSA box is delivered.

Below is a photo of our vegetables spread out over two tables in the break room at work last night.  It worked really well for us to split the fall/winter share over the past couple months. 



3 - Library Books

At the very end of November, my local library finally joined the county-wide system and there are so many more books available now.  Below is a photo of all the books that I've checked out in the last two weeks :)


Crazy Sexy Diet was recommended by my dad who is attempting to go vegan. I checked out Jamie Oliver's newest book and The Ploughman's Lunch because I'm looking for British food inspiration for a Downton Abbey party I'm hosting on January 6th for the Season 3 premier.

Joe Laedtke recommended Painting With Light at the food photography class I recently attended and MWF Seeking BFF was recommended at the book club meeting I attended last August.  I just started reading the latter and it's such a good book!

4 - Recipe Tester for America's Test Kitchen

A couple months ago I signed up to be a recipe tester for Cook's Illustrated (America's Test Kitchen), but wasn't really sure what to expect.  I've received two recipes via email so far.  The first was not appealing, so I didn't make it, but the second sounded great. 

I carefully followed the recipe for Buttery Braised & Browned Potatoes and was then surprised at how little feedback was requested when I filled out their survey.  I probably wouldn't test another recipe unless it sounded fantastic because of the effort required to follow their recipes.

Curious what others thought about recipe testing for Cook's Illustrated, I found several threads on forums relating to the subject, including Serious Eats and Chowhound, and people seem to have similar sentiments to mine.



5 - Pineapple Chobani Yogurt

After seeing Alysha's recommendation for pineapple Chobani, I knew I needed to try it.  I recently found myself in a store I swore I'd never go to because I needed to use their Redbox kiosk. 

Curiosity got the better of me, and I started wandering around the new Walmart Neighborhood Market which opened last month in a location that is way too close to my house.  Needless to say, I found a box of pineapple Chobani that I couldn't resist purchasing.

I like all of the Chobani flavors, but the pineapple is exceptionally good.  I will definitely buy more at any store except Walmart :)

December 13, 2012

Digital Magazines {Zinio Giveaway}

I've been hesitant to join the digital reading age.  I love books and magazines, but it's just not the same on a Kindle or iPad.  However, as tablets become more popular I'm realizing there are a lot of great reasons to go digital.  How nice would it be to have all your magazine subscriptions along with you when you travel this holiday season?

There are also some great magazines that are only available online such as foodiecrush.  I loved several articles in the most recent winter edition.  It seems like digital magazines are here to stay and I need to get with the times.

Have you heard of Zinio?  I hadn't until this week, and was surprised to find that all of my favorite magazines such as Saveur, Food Network, Cook's Illustrated, Vegetarian Times, Martha Stewart Living, Everyday with Rachel Ray, Eating Well, and Whole Living are available.


Zinio currently has a couple of great sales going on.  50% off 300 plus titles, including many I currently subscribe to, so it's not just the crap magazines they've got on sale :)  Plus 30% off the holiday issues from Better Homes and Gardens.

Are you familiar with the special holiday issues?  I'm always tempted when I see them at grocery store checkouts.  You know, ones like Food Gifts, Holiday Baking, 100 Best Cookies, and Christmas Baking.  In fact, last year I bought Food Gifts and I've got several pages marked with ideas I still need to try.


If you like the idea of digital magazine subscriptions, you'll be happy to know that I'm giving away 9 digital subscriptions courtesy of Zinio (any title).  For a chance to win, please leave a comment with the title of the magazine you're hoping to get.  Giveaway ends 12/16/12.

Disclosure: I received one free digital subscription in exchange for this blog post.

December 12, 2012

Pecan Sandies - Blogger Cookie Swap

This was my first year participating in The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap and I'm so glad I did!  I shipped 3 dozen browned butter pecan sandies, which is a delicious recipe I came across in the December 2012 issue of Better Homes and Gardens.


Just in case anyone got crazy and dreamed up some meaty cookie, I indicated "vegetarian" under dietary restrictions.  As it turned out, I was matched with other vegetarians (The Hungry Hutch, The Food Poet, and MarocMama), which I thought was a great way to do it.  Especially for those that require gluten free or nut free, who better to trust than someone else who requires the same.

It was hard to decide what to make, taking into consideration that a sturdy cookie would be needed for shipping and one that would remain fresh in transit to both California and New York. I settled on this recipe because it said "store at room temperature up to 10 days, freeze up to 2 months."


This recipe begins by sorting pecans.  Pull out the nicest, most intact pecans for the top and use the remainder for chopping.  You need a cup of chopped pecans, so I promise no pecans will get wasted.

I recommend the Progressive nut chopper because the base has measurements up to 1 1/3 cups.  I've used this chopper regularly for 4 years now and have had no issues.


The ingredients for this recipe are likely ones that you have on-hand with the exception of half-and-half.  Butter is an essential ingredient in this recipe, so use a good quality one such as Organic Valley.

I get annoyed with recipes that call for half-and-half because it's not something we normally buy and this recipe only needs 3 tablespoons!  Oh well, I made the most of it and used the remainder in my favorite cranberry nut muffin recipe.


Once you've browned the butter, this recipe comes together really quickly.  I would definitely recommend it as a fairly easy cookie to add to your holiday baking lineup.

I packaged my cookies in Wilton clear party bags (4 x 9 1/2"), which was a nice size.  I packed 6 in each bag, giving each person 6 plain cookies and 6 decorated in red & white coarse sugar.


This was my first time printing shipping labels from USPS.com and it was really easy to do, especially with flat rate boxes.  I loved being able to print postage at home and then drop the boxes off on a Sunday night.  Hooray for avoiding the Post Office in December!

I stacked the cookies and surrounded them in bubble wrap.  Oh and I included a recipe and business card so the recipients knew who to blame if they received a crumbly mess of cookies :) 


It's been fun receiving packages from my fellow cookie swappers over the past week.  I received Mexican hot cocoa cookies from Diana at The Dreamery Blog.  She created such a cute package decorated with a letter K and snowflake.

I also received peanut butter & cinnamon dark chocolate kiss cookies from Laura at Eating The Beats.  She blogs about food and music, and as a bonus included a Chelsea Wolfe CD which I really appreciated.

My final package contained gingerbread cookies from Shawn at The Healthy Helping, and some really cute Christmas confetti :)  I loved the creative touches with each package and was wishing I had done something more creative, or at least included a handwritten note.


A big thanks goes out to Love & Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen for organizing such a fun cookie swap.  It was very well run and I'm looking forward to participating again next year!


Browned Butter Pecan Sandies

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes


Ingredients (36 cookies)
  • 1 cup chilled butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons half-and-half
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup coarse sugar (optional)
  • 36 pecan halves
Instructions
  • In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. After butter has melted, adjust heat to low and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly (it will be foamy) with a high-heat rubber spatula.
  • Add chopped pecans and cook 1 minute longer. Transfer butter-pecan mixture to a large bowl. Cool about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile heat oven to 350 degrees and cut parchment paper for 3 baking sheets.
  • After butter-pecan mixture has cooled add powdered sugar, brown sugar, half-and-half, vanilla and salt. Mix until smoothly incorporated, then stir in flour. If mixture is too dry to form balls, add one more tablespoon of half-and-half.
  • Roll dough into 1" balls (I use a small Oxo scoop). If desired, roll ball in decorative coarse sugar.
  • Place 12 balls on each parchment-lined baking sheet, then press a pecan half firmly into each. If the edges crack, push the cookie back together with your fingers.
  • Bake cookies for 11 minutes, just until the edges start to brown. Then slide the parchment paper off the baking sheet onto a cooling rack.
  • Store at room temperature up to 10 days. Freeze up to 2 months.
Recipe Source: Better Homes and Gardens - December 2012
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December 09, 2012

MKEfoodies Holiday Bake Sale

Yesterday's bake sale was a huge success!  Cookies were sold out less than 2 hours into the bake sale.  Lori of MKEfoodies did a great job organizing the event and raising money for Cookies for Kids' Cancer.

Loved the event, but I hope a different venue is chosen in the future because Best Place tours take place in the same room, with a cheesy hour-long video on a loop.  Speaking of which, I have a Groupon for two Best Place tours that I no longer have a desire to use, if anyone is interested :)


I distracted myself from the terrible tour by chatting with these two lovely ladies during the sale.  Lisa, Erica and I manned the silent auction / raffle / milk table.  I won two raffle prizes - a coffee cup and a certificate for Milwaukee Food Tours, which is awesome because I love their food tours!


If you weren't able to join us at the bake sale yesterday, another great way to support Cookies for Kids' Cancer is to buy an Oxo cookie spatula because 50% of profits support the charity.  I received my spatula through my participation in the Food Blogger Cookie Swap.

December 08, 2012

Christmas Cake Pops

Each time I make cake pops, I swear never again.  However this time it's for a very good cause, an MKEfoodies holiday bake sale that supports Cookies for Kids' Cancer.  I'm volunteering during the bake sale tomorrow and I hope to see you there!


There are a ton of steps in making cake pops and certain tools help make it less stressful, such as a food processor for crumbling the cake.


A small Oxo scoop is also helpful for forming the cake balls.  A 9x13 cake produces approximately 50 cake balls, all of which should fit back in a 9x13 pan (don't forget parchment paper).

 
There are a few different ways to melt chocolate.  I prefer using a Wilton Chocolate Pro (actually I use two at a time), which I find very helpful when making cake pops. 
 
In the past I've bought all chocolate coating from Cake & Bake, but when I was shopping there this past weekend I was distraught to see a large sign warning that their chocolate supplier had changed the formula.  The chocolate now requires refrigeration in order to set, but not for more than 20 minutes, which sounded like a huge pain.

I had heard good things about Wilton Candy Melts, so I figured it was a good time to try something new and I was happy with the results.  They melted well and taste-wise I couldn't tell the difference between Wilton and Cake & Bake's chocolate.

 
Cake pops are time consuming, so it's frustrating when you have problems, even though you're seemingly doing everything right.  This time around my biggest problem was condensation.  Turning to google, I found a helpful FAQ from Veronica's Cornucopia and also great tips from CandiQuick and KC Bakes.

Knowing I would encouter some problems, I made two 9x13 cakes which made approximately 100 cake pops.  I needed 52 to fill my new cake pop stand for the bake sale, so I didn't panic when I saw cracks, cake bursting through the chocolate, cake pops stuck together and condensations on the pops.  It's a tough jobs, but someone has to eat the rejects :)

I'd highly recommend the cake pop stand that I purchased.  It's sturdy, easy to transport and cake pops fit well even when wrapped.  The only tip I have is to add cake pops from top to bottom.  After removing the cake pops to wrap them, I mistakenly put them back the opposite way.


The stand isn't quite as attractive when all the cake pops are wrapped, but I'm hoping they all sell tomorrow to raise money for Cookies for Kids' Cancer.  I made a sign to help people differentiate the different cake flavors, which I identified with red and silver twist ties.


December 05, 2012

Christmas Cookies

While googling recipes recently to make for a cookie swap, I came across a list of traditional Christmas cookies from Martha Stewart. I flipped through the slideshow curious to see if all of my favorites were included.

For the most part they were, I saw cut-out cookies, gingerbread men, thumbprints (more varieties than I ever imagined), spritz, and pfeffernussen (we call them Russian tea cakes)...all of which could be found on my grandma's 3-season porch each Christmas.
I almost bought some Christmas cookie cutters at Jo-Ann's this past weekend, but decided I should probably see what I had at home first.  I'm so glad I didn't buy them because I had forgotten how many Christmas cookie cutters I owned!

 
 
However, I'm still kicking myself for not buying the ninjabread men cookie cutters I saw at Target this past weekend.  So much cooler than gingerbread men :)
 
As I dug through my closet I found more Christmas baking related items including lots of sprinkles, a spritz cookie press I've never used, a Wilton Cookie Exchange book that I really like, and a silicone tree mold pan that I also have yet to use.
 
 
As I was looking on Amazon just now for a link to the cookie press, I wasn't sure if I had clicked the right one until I saw this message "Instant Order Update for Karis. You purchased this item on November 8, 2010."  Yep, that's the one I bought and have yet to use :)
 
I bought the tree mold pan with the intention of making tree shaped bark.  I was actually looking for a snowflake version after I saw this bark recipe on Pinterest but could only find trees.

What are your favorite Christmas cookies?  Do you like to bake all the varieties yourself, participate in a cookie exchange or buy them at a bake sale such as MKEfoodies holiday bake sale?

December 04, 2012

Food Photography Class

I really enjoyed the food photography class taught by Joe Laedtke that I attended last night.  It was held at Graffito and included a salad, main dish and dessert created by chef Joe McCormick.


Finding the right angle was one of Joe's lessons.  Which photo below is more appealing?  Overhead shots can work, but in this case getting lower resulted in a much more interesting shot.


We were given the opportunity to try out some of Joe's equipment which was really nice.  Below is a photo of Lisa.  After trying out Joe's camera, I think a DSLR is worth the investment.


On the left is a photo I took using Joe's camera and on the right is a photo I took using my point & shoot.  For a cleaner comparison I did not alter either in PicMonkey, which I what I usually tweak photos with.


If you're interested in learning more about food photography, I highly recommend Joe's class.  I attended with a fun group tonight that included Molly, Abby and Inger, pictured left to right below.  Oh, and Joe is behind them :)

December 02, 2012

Cranberry Pear Crisp

I can't resist buying cranberries this time of year.  I love the combination of cranberry and orange in relish and muffins, but wanted to try something new so I turned to Martha Stewart's slideshow of fresh cranberry recipes.

I stopped when I got to cranberry-pear crisp because in addition to cranberries, I also can't resist buying pears.  The two work so well together in this recipe, with the sweetness of the pears balancing out the tartness of the cranberries...well sugar and brown sugar helps too :)


It takes an hour for this dessert to bake and then cool, but the prep work is minimal and if you have ramekins, you can serve dessert straight from the oven! 

Just a couple of years ago, before I started really cooking I made fun of my mom for buying ramekins for a specific recipe.  As it turns out they're inexpensive and useful!  I've used them for vegetarian pot pies, deconstructed stuffed peppers, and baked dips.

 
Cranberry Pear Crisp

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients (serves 6)
  • 1/2 cup chilled butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 6 firm pears, peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces (6 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
Instructions
  • Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  • In a food processor, pulse butter with flour until pea-size clumps form. Add 1/4 cup sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and oats. Pulse until large clumps form, about 10 times.
  • In a large bowl, toss pears with lemon juice. Add cranberries and 1/3 cup sugar; toss well.
  • Transfer to six 8-oz ramekins (or a 3-quart baking dish). Sprinkle with topping, then bake about 25 minutes, until the topping is golden.
  • Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving with vanilla ice cream.
Recipe Source: Martha Stewart
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December 01, 2012

Rutabaga Leek Soup

I'm pretty certain this recipe was my first time every cooking with a rutabaga.  I picked it up at the farmers' market a couple weeks ago and discovered it was still lingering in my vegetable drawer when I recently added the contents of my latest CSA box.
 
The timing worked out beautifully because we received fresh thyme this week, so I added two sprigs to the soup, which was a tip I had read on The Kitchn.  It's so much easier than removing the leaves from the stem by hand!
 


This is a very easy recipe to make, with minimal ingredients and an amazing flavor.  The soup is so creamy you would swear that milk or cream had been added.

Rutabaga Leek Soup

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 37 minutes

Ingredients (serves 3-4)
  • 1 large leek, chopped (white and pale green part only)
  • 1 large rutabaga, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
  • In a large saucepan, melt butter then add the chopped rutabaga and leek. Cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add vegetable broth, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.
  • Remove thyme sprigs, if applicable, then puree soup with an immersion blender. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as desired.
Recipe adapted from: Not Eating Out In New York
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