Playing Hooky

4 Jan

While browsing through my blog posts today, I realized that most of them have centered upon cooking as of late.  The last time I shared news about my crafting endeavors was in mid-November, which means I am very overdue for an update.  Now, just because I haven’t posted about my crochet projects in a while does not mean that the hook and yarn have gone untouched.  Quite the opposite, actually!

Christmas prompted me to make countless gifts for family and friends, which meant I was busy all through December.  What gifts did I crochet for others?  Scarves and coaster sets – which I’m pleased to say were well-received by all.  Up until this past Christmas, I never realized just how much family and friends appreciate handmade gifts that they can actually use!  It is so gratifying to make something with your own hands and then see others enjoying (and utilizing!) what you’ve created.  This year, I hope to continue crocheting gifts for others and perhaps extend my repertoire to include afghans, mittens, and hats.  But, for now, here are some snapshots of a few scarves and coaster sets I made  in 2012.  Enjoy – and happy crafting!

The “Blue Lagoon” Scarf

  • Yarn:  Lion Brand Homespun in Lagoon
  • Hook size:  I9/5.50 mm

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The “OSU Beavers” Scarf

  • Yarn 1:  Loops and Threads Impeccable in Pumpkin
  • Yarn 2:  Red Heart Super Saver in Black
  • Hook size:  H8/5.00 mm

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The “Arizona” Coaster Set

  • Yarn 1:  Loops and Thread Impeccable in Cherry
  • Yarn 2:  Loops and Thread Impeccable in Pumpkin
  • Yarn 3:  Loops and Thread Impeccable in Amethyst
  • Yarn 4:  Loops and Thread Impeccable in Aqua
  • Hook size:  H8/5.00 mm

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We All Scream for Ice Cream!

3 Jan

Over the last couple of weeks, the weather in Portland has been cold, windy, and rainy.  One might think that the wintery mix would prompt me to make something warm and comforting.  Quite the opposite, actually!  This morning, I woke up craving some homemade ice cream, and after seeing the delicious S’mores concoction Annie whipped up over at her cooking lab, I knew I had to give it a try.  There was one slight problem, though.  Our kitchen is fresh out of an ice cream maker.  The solution?  Use Annie’s recipe as a jumping off point and come up with a recipe that can be made sans the heavy equipment.

After some quick experimenting (and lots of taste tests – yum!), I pieced together a Toasted Marshmallow with Graham Cracker Crumbs variation that is quick to make, smooth and rich, and deliciously flavorful!  Whip up a batch in the morning for a sweet treat at night.  Your taste buds will thank you!  Let me know what you think – and as always, bon appetit!

Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream with Graham Cracker Crumbs

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup small marshmallows
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 1/4 cups cold heavy cream
  • 2-3 whole graham crackers, broken into small pieces

Instructions:

Adjust oven rack to upper position.  Set oven to broil (I use the low setting on my oven.)  Cover a small rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spread the marshmallows out on the sheet and place under broiler for 20-40 seconds.  When the marshmallows are lightly browned and toasted, you will know they are ready to come out.  Watch them carefully, as they are quick to burn!  Set aside to cool.

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Meanwhile, combine espresso (or coffee) and hot water in small bowl.  Let stand until espresso dissolves, about 5 minutes.  Microwave the chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, and coffee mixture in bowl, stirring every 10 seconds or so, until the chocolate is melted, about 1 minute.  Stir in the vanilla, salt, and marshmallows.  Set aside to cool.

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With electric mixer on medium-high speed, whip the cream to soft peaks, about 2 minutes.  Whisk 1/3 of whipped cream into the chocolate mixture.  Fold remaining whipped cream into chocolate mixture until incorporated.  Freeze in airtight container until firm, at least 6 hours or up to 2 weeks.  Makes 1 quart.

*Before serving, toast the graham cracker pieces in a small skillet over medium heat until lightly browned in spots.  Let cool and then sprinkle onto ice cream servings.

Adapted from Cook’s Country Magazine and Annie’s Cooking Lab.

“Red-y” for the New Year

1 Jan

2012 was quite the year for Scott and me.  We traveled to Kauai and Peru, celebrated our first wedding anniversary, made wonderful memories with family and friends, and spent countless hours together in the kitchen.  Tonight, we get to make one last imprint on 2012 by reigning in the New Year with two of our best friends.  To celebrate this special occasion, I thought it would be fun to try a recipe I discovered recently for Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting.  They are sweet and delicate in flavor, beautiful when frosted, and make quite the impression when placed attractively on a platter or cupcake display.  Give them a try tonight – or for your next special event!  In the meantime, we wish you peace and happiness as we say goodbye to 2012 and hello to 2013.  Bon appétit!

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients for Cupcakes:

  • 2 ½ cupcakes cake flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 ½ cups canola oil
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon red gel-paste food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

Instructions for Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.  Whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, whisk together sugar and oil until combined.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.  Mix in food coloring and vanilla.

Reduce speed to low.  Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and whisking well after each.  Stir together the baking soda and vinegar together in a small bowl, add to the batter, and mix on medium speed until combined.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each 3/4 full.  Bake, rotating halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes.  Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.

*Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.

Ingredients for Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions for Cream Cheese Frosting:

Beat butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium high speed until fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Reduce speed to low.  Add sugar ½ cup at a time, and then vanilla.  Mix until smooth and combined, scraping down bowl as needed.

*If not using immediately, frosting can be stored and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  Before using, be sure to bring it to room temperature and beat on low again to smooth.

Finishing the Cupcakes:

To finish, use a small spatula to spread frosting onto cupcakes.  You can also pipe frosting on, if desired.

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes Cookbook.

The Award Goes To…

20 Dec

Oh…my…goodness!  I still can’t believe it!  Our humble little blog has been nominated for an award!  It is called the R.E.A.L.I.T.Y award and recognizes blogs that others deem as “real, energizing, amazing, lovely, inspiring, and touching”…yippee!

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Scott and I would like to thank Candy over at Lovely Buns for nominating us for this special award.  If you have yet to discover Lovely Buns, it is a must-see blog that features Candy’s latest and greatest “sweets, treats, bits, and bobs.”  I’d highly recommend venturing over for a look, as she is always cooking up new and interesting recipes!

Now, as a R.E.A.L.I.T.Y award nominee, Candy has posed the following questions for me to answer – so here goes:

1.  If you could change one thing, what would you change?

My desire to have everything perfect – one could say I’m a “recovering perfectionist.”

2.  If you could repeat an age, what would it be?

21 – I celebrated that birthday with a load of…college final exams.  Lame!

3.  What is one thing that really scares you?

Bugs – anything creepy and crawly.

4.  What is one dream you have not completed?

Obtaining my doctorate…and having children…in no particular order.

5.  If you could be someone else for one day, who would it be?

I always joke that I’ll come back as an event planner in my next life…so how about that?

As is customary, I’d like to recognize and pass this award on to the following blogs and bloggers, who truly represent what the R.E.A.L.I.T.Y award is all about:

Dandelion Daze

Annie’s Cooking Lab

Lilibeth’s Garden

The rules of the award are:

1.  Visit and thank the blogger who nominated you.  2.  Acknowledge that blogger on your blog and link back.  3.  Answer the same 5 questions presented.  4.  Nominate blogs for the award, link to their blogs in your post, and notify them on their blogs.  5.  Copy and paste the award on your blog somewhere.

Enjoy and happy blogging!

A Fine Time for Wine

20 Dec

Well, our first annual Winter Wine Tasting Party came and went last weekend – and boy was it ever fun!  Having never hosted one before, I was nervous about how the event would go, as our guests ranged from occasional wine drinkers to experienced, refined “winos.”  Catering to such a diverse group had me a little intimidated at first, but with a lot of planning and careful preparation, the tasting went off without a hitch.

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We started the event with a “blind” tasting to see if guests could tell the difference between red and white wine.  To do this, we filled paper coffee cups with a splash of room temperature Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, covered each cup with a black lid, and delivered one to each guest.  Taking careful sips, we then challenged our attendees to identify if the wine in their cups was red or white.  The result was very interesting.  About half of our guests were able to determine their wine type using taste alone.  This prompted a short, but insightful conversation about how wine tasting is truly a multi-sensory experience, one that relies not only the ability to taste, but also on one’s capacity to see and smell.

After our “blind” tasting, guests sampled eight different wine varietals – four reds and four whites.  To assist our tasters in identifying the flavors and aromas of each wine, we made lists and displayed them above the “wine bar.”  This was a wonderful way for all attendees to read about the wines they were consuming – in real time!  As an added bonus, we served the wines with an assortment of sweet and savory dishes – and finished the night with Snickerdoodle Cupcakes.

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Overall, I was very pleased with the event and am thankful to have such a wonderful group of family members and friends with which to share good food, wine, and conversation.  I’m hoping to host another one in the new year, perhaps with a focus on red wines only.  Once I make a firm decision, I’ll let you know.  In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you about wines you enjoy!  Where are they from and what makes them stand out?  Consider adding your thoughts below – and thanks in advance for sharing!

Nutty for Nuts

10 Dec

One of the things I love to serve at parties is a meat and cheese board.  Not only is it incredibly easy to piece together, but it also makes a bold (and beautiful) statement on the table.  For our wine tasting event next weekend, we’ll be serving our guests a compilation of blue and lake country cheeses, assorted cured meats, dried fruits, and homemade spiced nuts – all served on a bamboo board.  Sounds great, right?

Now, homemade spiced nuts are a new addition for me, as I previously just went to the store and bought nuts in a can.  Why make my own?  The reason is simple:  Salt.  Unless I buy the reduced-sodium versions, most canned nuts are loaded with salt and frankly, we simply don’t need anymore in our diet!  By making my own, I am able to control how much sodium is added, as well as experiment with interesting spice combinations!  That said, here is a great recipe for sweet and spicy almonds that can come together in a flash.  Make a batch for your next holiday gathering and let me know what you think!  In the meantime, bon appétit!

Simple Sweet and Spicy Almonds

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 cups raw whole almonds
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil

Instructions:

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all the spices together.  In a large bowl, toss the nuts with the oil, then toss with the spice mixture to coat.

Spread the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet.  Toast, stirring often, until the nuts are fragrant and lightly browned, 10-15 minutes.  Let the nuts cool completely on the baking sheet before serving.  Makes 2 cups.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.

Wine and Dine

5 Dec

In a couple of weeks, Scott and I will be hosting a winter wine tasting party to celebrate the season with family and friends.  For this event, we asked each guest (or couple) to bring a bottle of wine, the varietal of which we specified on the party invitation.  Each type will then be paired with a certain food to accentuate the wine’s aroma and flavor.

Four reds and fours whites were selected for this tasting.  In choosing the wines, we made sure to pick both light and heavy varietals, so tasters could clearly experience how they differ in both mouth feel and taste.  Here is the list:

Reds:

Pinot Noir (Light to Medium)

Merlot (Medium)

Syrah (Medium to Heavy)

Cabernet Sauvignon (Heavy)

Whites:

Pinot Gris (Light)

Sauvignon Blanc (Light to Medium)

Gewürztraminer (Medium)

Chardonnay (Medium to Heavy)

Now, as I said before, each wine will be paired with a certain food to bring out the varietal’s flavor and aroma.  For this party, I chose to select dishes that are portable and easy to eat.  Think tapas – small plates of food that can be enjoyed individually and when consumed together.  Here is the menu I pieced together to enhance our wine tasting experience.  Let me know what you think!  Bon appétit!

Hot Spinach-Artichoke Dip with Toasted Baguette

Suggested Wine:  Pinot Gris

Meat/Cheese Board with Parmesan, Asiago, and Blue Cheeses, Dried Fruits, Spiced Almonds, and Assorted Meats

Suggested Wines:  Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon

Polenta Squares with Mixed Olive Tapenade

Suggested Wine:  Syrah

Salmon Cakes with Lemon-Basil and Tartar Sauces

Suggested Wines:  Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir

Greens with Nuts, Cranberries, Blue Cheese, and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Suggested Wine:  Merlot

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

Suggested Wine:  Gewürztraminer

An Eggs-celent Start

30 Nov

One of the things I love to serve on Christmas morning is a hot egg dish and this year, I’ve decided to skip the quiche and turn instead to strata.  Now, you might be asking yourself, “What the heck is strata?”  Here’s a simple answer:  A delicious egg casserole that is bound together with bread and milk (or cream.)  Easy enough?  I promise it is!  Over the years, I’ve experimented with a number of strata recipes, but the one I’m sharing with you today is by far the best (in my humble opinion.)  Not only can it be made ahead of time, but it also relies upon healthful ingredients to keep it light and flavorful.  Give it a try for your holiday morning feast and let me know what you think!  In the meantime, bon appetit and happy holidays!

Spinach and Feta Breakfast Strata

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 loaf high quality white bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 10 ounces chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • Vegetable spray
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups reduced-fat milk (I use 2% here)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese

Instructions:

Adjust an oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 275 degrees.  Spread bread cubes over a rimmed baking sheet and bake until thoroughly dry and crisp, 30-40 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant.  Add the spinach and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes.  Transfer mixture to a large bowl.  Add the wine to the skillet, bring to a simmer, and reduce until it measures 1/4 cup, about 3 minutes.  Set aside to cool separately.

Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with vegetable spray.  Whisk the eggs, reduced wine, milk, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl.  Stir in the spinach mixture, 1 cup of feta, and dried bread cubes and mix until well-combined.  Pour the mixture into the baking dish and cover with plastic wrap.  Weight the strata down with a large ziplock bag filled with sugar. (I fill the bag about halfway with sugar.)  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 325 degrees.  Meanwhile, pull strata from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes.  Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of feta.  Bake until the surface puffs and the edges begin to pull away from the dish, 50-55 minutes.  Let cool slightly before serving.  Serves 6.

Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook.

Thai One On

27 Nov

During the fall and winter seasons, Scott and I are always looking for new soup recipes to serve at our dinner table.  The latest discovery?  A Thai Coconut-Chicken soup that is full of flavor and spice.  We made this recipe using the dark meat off some chicken legs and thighs that were in the freezer from a previous cooking adventure, but you could certainly use boneless, skinless breasts to keep things lean.  We also cut down on the amount of red curry paste called for by the original recipe, and substituted light coconut milk for the full-fat variety.  Now, I’m not a big Thai food fan, but this soup is truly delicious – and comes together fast!  Give it a try for a quick weeknight meal and let me know what you think!  Bon appetit!

Thai Coconut-Chicken Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 3 scallions, whites minced and greens sliced thin
  • 6 tablespoons cilantro, minced
  • 1 tablespoon red curry paste
  • 4 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 4 cups low-sodium, reduced-fat chicken broth
  • 3 1/2 cups light coconut milk
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/4 inch slices*
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled, quartered, and sliced thin
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice

* You can also substitute a pound of cooked dark chicken meat – or a combination of the two.  Use whatever you have on hand!

Instructions:

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat.  Add scallion whites, 3 tablespoons cilantro, and curry paste.  Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in 2 teaspoons fish sauce, broth, and coconut milk and bring to boil over high heat.  Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, add chicken and sweet potato, and cook until chicken is no longer pink and potato is tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove soup from heat and stir in lime juice and remaining 2 teaspoons fish sauce.  Portion soup into serving bowls and sprinkle with scallion greens and remaining cilantro.  Serves 4.

Adapted from Cook’s Country Magazine, January 2013 Issue.

Berry Delicious

20 Nov

Every summer, Scott and I try to dedicate at least a day to picking berries and if we’re lucky, we harvest enough to freeze some for use during the fall and winter months.  A few nights ago, I was organizing our freezer and spied a nice bag of marionberries, which were picked last July.  I couldn’t help but think that the longer they sat packaged up, the less flavorful they would become.  So, I flipped through my recipe books and found this gem:  Lemon Yogurt Mousse with Berry Sauce.

Now, I know this isn’t exactly a fall recipe, but oh boy is it ever delicious.  The best part is that the dish does not rely on fresh berries!  In fact, any frozen varietal will do.  I chose to use the marionberries from my freezer, but you could easily substitute raspberries, strawberries, or even blueberries.  The lemon yogurt mousse pairs so nicely with berries that you’ll be amazed at how versatile the recipe actually is!  Give it a try in your own kitchen and let me know what you think!  In the meantime, bon appetit!

Lemon Yogurt Mousse with Berry Sauce

For the berry sauce:

  • 3/4 fresh or frozen berries (I like marionberries or raspberries)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Pinch salt

Bring the berries, sugar, water, and salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until smooth, about 20 seconds.  Strain the puree through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible (you should have about 1/2 cup.)  Spoon the sauce evenly into six 4-ounce ramekins and refrigerate until chilled, about 20 minutes.

For the mousse:

  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 6 tablespoons sugar

Pour the water into a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top, and set aside to let the gelatin hydrate, about 10 minutes.  In a separate bowl, whisk the yogurt, cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla, and salt together until smooth.

Whisk the egg whites, cream of tartar, and sugar together in a large bowl.  Set the bowl over a large saucepan of barely simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the bowl.  Heat the mixture, whisking constantly, until it has tripled in size, about 5-10 minutes.

Off the heat, quickly whisk in the hydrated gelatin until melted.  Whip the warm mixture with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until it forms stiff, shiny peaks, 4-6 minutes.  Add the yogurt mixture and continue to whip until just combined, 30-60 seconds.

Divide the mousse evenly among the chilled ramekins with the berry sauce, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until set, 6-8 hours.  Serves 6.

Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook.

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