Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sweet Potato Goat Cheese Galette


Every year I take time before the holidays to plan our White Elephant Christmas party menu as meticulously as time and an Excel spreadsheet will allow. It's typically a buffet of 7-9 appetizers and sides (plus dessert), and I attempt to include something for everyone: meat-lovers, vegetarians, gluten-free, whatever. As I brainstorm about what constellation of items to serve, I try to think of foods that strike me as interesting and classy. Somehow I always manage to end up with at least one recipe that calls for goat cheese. Maybe I need to get with the times, but any appetizer made with goat cheese just seems fancy to me. (I know, 1999 called. It wants its party food back.) Maybe this is how my grandmothers felt about Jell-O in 1955. Or anything with the word "mousse" in it, like shrimp mousse or the ever-popular "ham mousse ring." Does that just scream ELEGANCE, or what? I do wonder if in fifty years I'll look back at my Christmas party menus and cringe. Goat cheese? WHAT was I thinking??

But for now, I do love me some delicious, creamy chèvre, and any appetizer that relies heavily upon it. Like this sweet potato goat cheese galette. (P.S. Can I also earn some fanciness points for making something called a "galette"?) Actually, a galette is just "a food prepared and served in the shape of a flat round cake." In this case, sweet potatoes are thinly sliced and stacked in layers, alternating with goat cheese, parmesan, and a sautéed shallot-olive-oil-thyme mixture to give the effect of a flat round cake. A delicious, savory cake that pairs well with roasted meats or as a stunner on the Christmas/New Year's party circuit. I know I'll be serving it again. 

Sweet Potato Goat Cheese Galette
(Adapted from Fine Cooking)  

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. finely chopped shallots
1 1/4 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled (about 3-4 sweet potatoes)
2 tsp. coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
1 c. crumbled goat cheese

Directions:

1. In a small saucepan, combine olive oil and shallots. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce to a low simmer and cook 2 minutes or until shallots are softened but not browned. Remove from heat and let cool.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat the bottom of a 9-inch tart pan (a pie plate will work in a pinch) with cooking spray. If using a tart pan, place it on a baking sheet lined with foil.

3. Slice the sweet potatoes as thinly as possible, about 1/16th inch. In a large bowl, toss the potato slices with the cooled olive oil mixture and fresh thyme until potatoes are well coated. 

4. Beginning at the outside edge of the tart pan, cover the bottom of the pan with one layer of sweet potatoes, making slightly overlapping rings. Sprinkle some kosher salt over the whole layer, then a quarter of the Parmesan and a quarter of the goat cheese. Repeat two more times until you have three layers of sweet potatoes, salt, Parmesan, and goat cheese. Top the last layer with any remaining cheese.

5. Bake on the foil-lined baking sheet in the preheated oven 40-45 minutes or until a fork easily pierces potatoes all the way through. (The top layer of goat cheese will brown a bit--this is okay.) Cool 10-15 minutes and slice into wedges.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mint Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies



Isn't it interesting how every language has at least a few words that defy translation? (Like "fun" or "bromance" in English.) Recently I read this article about the Danish concept of "hygge"  ("HYU-gah"), a tough-to-pin-down notion of coziness, well-being, or togetherness. It seems that any experience that evokes these feelings of comfort--coming home to a warm house on a cold night, savoring a candlelit dinner, snuggling in a cozy sweater--qualifies as hygge. In other words, hygge is the feeling of Christmas. The article theorizes that Danes' cultural emphasis on this concept is a key factor in its consistently ranking as the happiest country on earth.

One of my favorite hygge-inducing activities at Christmastime is baking. I have happy memories of making spritz cookies with my mom every year using this contraption that looks more like an instrument of torture than a baking tool. 


Baking for my loved ones, knowing I'm providing them with a special treat at Christmastime, continues to be a joy for me during the holiday season. So when I manage to pull off a really delicious, visually appealing confection like these mint chocolate candy cane cookies, I'm a happy Christmas camper. These require a little extra effort than the standard mix-and-bake drop cookies, but the presentation (and the taste) are worth it! I made a batch and froze it a few weeks ago and our family is still enjoying them one by one out of the freezer--I think we may even like them better cold. Something about the mint flavor's inherent chilliness just makes it work.


Wishing you a very merry Christmas filled with whatever brings you hygge! 

Fresh out of the oven!

Mint Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies
(Base recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com/inspired by Bon Appetit)

Ingredients:

1 c. butter, softened
1 1/2 c. white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. peppermint extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. cocoa powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. mini semisweet chocolate chips, divided
1 c. crushed candy cane

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and peppermint extract until light and fluffy. Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; stir into the butter mixture until blended. Mix in 1 c. mini chocolate chips. Drop by rounded Tablespoons onto a greased baking sheet.

3. Bake 10-11 minutes or until just set. Cool 10 minutes.

4. In a small bowl, microwave remaining 1 c. mini chocolate chips at 20 second intervals until melted. Pour melted chocolate into a squeeze bottle and drizzle in a zig-zag pattern over cookie tops. (Alternatively, if you don't have a squeeze bottle, dredge a fork through the melted chocolate and drizzle over cookies that way.) Sprinkle with crushed candy cane. Refrigerate until set, about 20 minutes.

Makes 3-4 dozen. 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Whole-Grain Blueberry Orange Muffins


I've been making muffins for a looong time now, and through my many experiments with flavors from plum poppyseed to pumpkin banana, blueberry muffins remain the gold standard in my mind's eye of All That Is Muffin. This may be because they were the only kind of muffin I recall my mom making when I was growing up, and I have memories of unabashedly devouring the batter from the mixing bowl like a piranha stripping a cow carcass. Since then, I've run the gamut of blueberry muffin recipes (and their batter, if we're being honest). You've got your cake-like blueberry muffins, with white flour, a mountain of sugar, and streusel for days. Then there are the blueberry health bombs that that are so dense you could knock someone senseless with one. And somewhere in between are the blueberry muffins I usually make, which are healthy and adequately tasty, but nothing I've put on the blog because they're a wee bit boring. 

So my blueberry muffin world was rather rocked when I tried this recipe from Real Simple. These have got to be the most unique blueberry muffin recipe I've ever tried. I'll tell you why. No, it's not the fact that blueberry combined with orange is slightly unusual. There's......shhhh.....a secret ingredient. Well, at least I thought it was unexpected enough and blends seamlessly enough into the texture of the muffin that heck, sure, let's call it a secret ingredient. Pecans! Not pecans loaded with sugar as a crumb topping, but pecans ground in the food processor along with whole wheat flour and oats for a robust (but not crunchy) texture that makes you go, "What's so deliciously different about these?" Add to that the bright sweetness of orange flavor combined with the more mellow sweetness of blueberries and you have a very intriguing mix. My kids devoured them for breakfast, then asked if they could have them packed in their lunches, then asked if they could have them for snack when they got home. And if I weren't saving them for my kids, I probably would have eaten them three times in one day, too. 

So if you find yourself jaded in a world of dime-a-dozen blueberry muffin recipes, perhaps these can broaden your breakfast horizons like they did mine.


Whole Wheat Blueberry Orange Muffins
(Slightly adapted from Real Simple)

Ingredients:

1 1/4 c. white whole wheat flour
1 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 c. pecans
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. plain yogurt
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
3 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 Tbsp. grated orange zest
1/4 c. orange juice
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. blueberries, frozen or fresh

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

2. In a food processor, process the flour, oats, pecans, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until finely ground.

3. In a large bowl, combine yogurt, brown sugar, butter, orange zest, orange juice, egg, and vanilla. Add flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in blueberries. The batter will appear dry, but don't worry, the finished product won't be!

4. Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups. Bake 23-25 minutes. 


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Lasagna "Cupcakes"


Before I begin this post, let me just say, YES, I do realize the seeming wrongness of the word "lasagna" followed by the word "cupcakes." The idea of noodles and tomato sauce combined with cake and frosting is too weird even for me. BUT stick with me--it's not what it sounds like! Fortunately, the cupcake part of the term "lasagna cupcake" is merely descriptive of the fact that these shrink-rayed lasagnas are baked in a cupcake tin...or a muffin tin. So you could also call them "lasagna muffins." Equally strange. 

I decided to give these miniature entrees a whirl in anticipation of our annual Christmas party. The menu is still in the finalization stage, but these have definitely made the cut. Their small size and overall uniqueness make them an ideal choice for a party buffet, and they're hearty enough to be a dinner mainstay, not just an appetizer. Piping hot out of the oven, these are gooey, meaty, cheesy bites of Italianate deliciousness. Can you tell I'm smitten? 


Lasagna Cupcakes
(Adapted from Tablespoon.com)

Ingredients:

3/4 lb. ground beef or turkey (I used turkey)
salt and pepper
36 wonton wrappers
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 c. ricotta cheese
2 c. shredded mozzarella
1 26-oz. jar tomato-basil spaghetti sauce
Basil leaves, for garnish

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 1 1/2 12-cup muffin tins (18 muffin wells).

2. Brown ground beef or turkey over medium-high heat. Season generously with salt and pepper. Drain.

3. Press 1 wonton wrapper into the bottom of 18 muffin wells. Sprinkle a layer of Parmesan on top of each wrapper, then a thin layer of ricotta and a sprinkle of mozzarella. Using your fingers, crumble a layer of ground meat on top of cheese, then spoon a small amount of spaghetti sauce on meat. 

4. Repeat layers again: wonton wrapper, Parmesan, ricotta, mozzarella, meat, sauce. Top with one more sprinkle of mozzarella and Parmesan.

5. Bake 18-20 minutes or until edges are brown. Let stand for 5 minutes, then loosen edges with a knife and remove from pan.

Makes 18 "cupcakes."

Friday, November 28, 2014

Candied Cherry Opera Fudge


Is it too early to start in on Christmas desserts? I'm usually a pretty staunch Christmas-must-wait-until-after-Thanksgiving type, so with Thanksgiving barely 24 hours behind us, I almost feel bad posting such a Christmas-y recipe. But not that bad, because Christmas desserts are the absolute best! This unique opera fudge is a Christmas recipe I've been wanting to try for ages, ever since I saw it featured in a Better Homes and Gardens December issue years ago. I had never heard of opera fudge and had no idea what it was, as compared to regular fudge. I just went along with my imagination and assumed it was some old-fashioned confection that used to be served at the opera. Visions of ladies in fancy ruffled dresses being served cherry fudge in their theater balconies danced in my head. 

But apparently, this is not the source of the name opera fudge. When I looked it up, I found that opera fudge is a candy originating in Lebanon, Pennsylvania--the authentic version is still sold and shipped from there. No one knows why it was named opera fudge, though there did used to be an opera house in the town in the late 1800s. As for the candy, it's technically not a fudge. (So no opera and no fudge...if it weren't so delicious, I think I'd be getting disappointed right about now.) In its most traditional form, it's a fondant made with heavy cream, then coated with chocolate. This candied cherry version, however, is chocolate-free, allowing the pretty red candied cherries to give it a visual pop to match its tangy-sweet taste. For me, it was fun to make something that turned out so festive-looking. If you stop by my house this Christmas season, I just might whip some out of my freezer (yes, it freezes well) and make you sample some! 


Candied Cherry Opera Fudge
(Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)

Ingredients:

3 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. milk
1 c. half-and-half
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. coarsely chopped candied red cherries

Directions:

1. Line an 8 x 8 square pan with aluminum foil, extending foil over the edges of the pan. Spray with cooking spray and set aside.

2. Spray the inside of a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan with cooking spray. In the saucepan, combine sugar, milk, half-and-half, corn syrup, and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan. (Yes, you need a candy thermometer. Making an educated guess about temperature will be very difficult with this recipe.)

3. Continue boiling at a moderate, steady rate, stirring occasionally, until thermometer registers 236 degrees (soft ball stage--about 20 minutes). Adjust heat if necessary to maintain a steady boil.

4. Remove saucepan from heat. Add butter and vanilla but do not stir. Cool, without stirring, to 170 degrees (about 20 minutes). Remove thermometer from the pan and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon about 5 minutes. Add candied cherries and stir 1 more minute. Pour into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Let stand until firm. Use the foil to lift the fudge from the pan and cut with a sharp knife.

Makes 1 8 x 8 pan.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The B.E.L.T.CH.


In June 2005 when my husband and I were frivolous young things living on love and Hamburger Helper and a combined annual income equivalent to two days at Disneyland, we took a trip to beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. We spent our days exploring Stanley Park, making fun of Canadian money (ever heard of "loonies and toonies"?), and wandering the neighborhood of Kerrisdale, where we were staying at a lovely B & B. These were the days before Yelp, so as we strolled the neighborhood, our dining choices were left to chance. Luckily for us, we ended up at a fantastic little cafe called The Red Onion Restaurant. (It's still there, come to find out.) As far as I remember, I think we ended up eating there several times during our 5-day stay. (This may have also had to do with the fact that we hadn't rented a car.) But the other reason we kept coming back was for a inappropriately delicious sandwich: 

the B.E.L.T.CH!

This amped-up version of the classic BLT packed in a fried "E"gg and "CH"eese to compose the (B)acon (E)gg (L)lettuce (T)omato and (CH)eese sandwich. You know a sandwich is a true great when it's been nine years since you had it and you still think about it semi-annually. So when my husband made it today, it brought back only good gustatory memories. See, the regular BLT has always seemed a little skimpy and skinny to me. Like, go eat a sandwich, sandwich! This version solves that problem with creamy Havarti and a hearty fried egg. It's like breakfast met lunch and they both lived happily ever after. So thanks, Red Onion Restaurant! And thanks to my husband for making such a big, beautiful B.E.L.T.CH. It's what he does best. ;)


The B.E.L.T.CH.
(A Love Letter to Food Original, inspired by The Red Onion Restaurant)

Ingredients:

Cooking spray or 1 tsp. butter
1 egg
salt and pepper, to taste
3 slices thick-cut bacon
2 slices whole wheat toast
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 slice Havarti cheese
Tomato slices
Lettuce or spinach leaves

Directions:

1. Cook bacon as desired until crispy. 

2. Meanwhile, fry the egg: coat a small skillet with cooking spray or melt 1 tsp. butter over medium heat. Crack the egg directly into the skillet and let cook 3-5 minutes, or until the yolk no longer looks runny. Flip the egg with a spatula and cook on the other side an additional minute. Season with salt and pepper. 

3. Assemble the B.E.L.T.CH.! Spread mayo on toast slices and layer with tomato, lettuce, bacon, fried egg, and Havarti.

Serves 1.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fennel-Crusted Pork Roast with Autumn Vegetables


The first time I ever bought a parsnip (which was only last year) was at a local farm. We had taken the kids to enjoy the pumpkin patch and while they were occupied picking out a pumpkin or snuggling a chicken or some other agrarian activity, I strolled over to the market where the farm sells its crops. At some point in my browsing, a pale, waxy-colored cyclone of a vegetable caught my eye. I knew I should be able to identify it...but what the heck was it? Was it a turnip? Some funky tuber? An oversized albino carrot? No, my friends, it was in fact......

a parsnip! (Isn't parsnip one of those words that when you say it over and over it sounds totally ridiculous? Parsnip. Parsnip. Parsnip. Try it.) I decided then and there to buy a bag of parsnips, if only for the fact that I had never tried them before and was feeling up for a culinary adventure. When I got to the counter to pay, the farmer/cashier looked at my purchase and said, "You're not from around here, are you?" First I took offense, like is my city slicker-ness that obvious? I mean, geez, I only live like ten miles from this farm. I tried not to appear chagrined as I answered.

Me: "Um, yes, actually, I live not far from here."
Farmer/cashier: "But did you grow up here?"
Me: "....Yeeeesss.I grew up in Chandler."
F/C: (suspiciously) "You're not from the East Coast?"
Me: "No...?"
F/C: (grunts) "Huh. I never had someone from Arizona buy parsnips."

A-HA! I was relieved to realize it was not my freaky face or some strange accent I'm unaware of that made appear alien. It was the fact that I was purchasing parsnips. (Though it did make me wonder why this farmer grows parsnips if no one around here buys them.) At any rate, his surprise made me even more determined to take these exotic vegetables home and give them a try. Which I did, and discovered them to be like a sweeter version of carrots--quite tasty when roasted with olive oil.

As it turns out, parsnips have a long and privileged history. The Roman Emperor Tiberius accepted part of the annual tribute paid from Germany to Rome in parsnips, and they were considered a luxury food for aristocratic Romans. In the Middle Ages parsnips were a staple starch, significantly more popular than potatoes. So if you're inclined to try this recipe for fennel-crusted pork with roasted carrots, onions, and parsnips, you'll be continuing the rich and storied saga of this root vegetable. More than that, you'll enjoy a succulent pork tenderloin surrounded by an earthy crust of fennel seeds as well as oven-crisped carrots and red onions. For a simple, less-is-more weeknight dinner, our family loved it. So guess what, farmer-cashier-man? I'm gonna keep on buying your parsnips, even if I AM from around here. How do you like THEM parsnips??

Fennel-Crusted Pork Roast with Autumn Vegetables
(Adapted from Real Simple)

Ingredients:

3/4 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch sticks
3/4 lb. parsnips, peeled and cut into 3-inch sticks
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
1.25 lb. pork tenderloin
2 Tbsp. fennel seeds, crushed

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss carrots, parsnips, and red onion with 2 Tbsp. olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15-18 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, season the pork with salt and pepper, then coat with crushed fennel seeds. (You can do this by spreading the seeds on a plate or piece of wax paper and rolling the tenderloin over them.) Heat the remaining 2 tsp. olive oil over medium-high heat in a skillet large enough to accommodate the length of the tenderloin. Cook the pork, turning occasionally, until all sides are browned, about 8-10 minutes.

4. Remove vegetables from the oven and stir. Make room in the center of the baking sheet and place the pork on it, surrounded by the vegetables. 

5. Return the whole thing to the oven and continue to roast another 16-20 minutes. Let the pork rest at least 5 minutes before slicing.

Serves 4. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Baked Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal


Are you pumpkin-ed out yet? It seems like our national obsession with large orange vegetables gets more intense every year. This October Trader Joe's was offering over 60 pumpkin products--everything from pumpkin coffee to pumpkin ravioli (tried them both and they were both tasty!) I've seen pumpkin spice Hershey kisses and pumpkin M & Ms and have heard tell of pumpkin spice Doritos (!). And so far this season I myself have made pumpkin pie, pumpkin cake, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin cornbread, with plans to make pumpkin butter and pumpkin ice cream pie this afternoon. Looking at that list, I feel like I need a Pumpkin Intervention. 

But I JUST CAN'T STOP! Living in the desert, making seasonal foods is just about my only connection to feeling like the fall season is actually happening. Here in the Phoenix suburbs, we don't get changing leaves, we don't get sweater weather, we don't get harvest time. You know how some adults spend Christmastime going through rituals and traditions  to "recapture the magic" of Christmas when they were a kid? Well, I have this fairy-tale notion of autumn just like that (even though I didn't experience it as a kid). It's as though if I surround myself with seasonal produce I will magically feel the feelings of fall. And what, you may ask, are the feelings of fall? I suppose it's the typical fantasy of snuggling up in chilly weather, crunching leaves underfoot, and storing up for winter. There's a poem by Donald Hall called "Kicking the Leaves" I used to read every October that epitomizes this romantic notion of fall. Part of it goes:

"I remember Octobers walking to school in Connecticut,
wearing corduroy knockers that swished
with a sound like leaves; and a Sunday buying
a cup of cider at a roadside stand
on a dirt road in New Hampshire; and kicking the leaves."

Now, doesn't that just sound like the archetype of fall? (Ignore the next line where he says "knowing my father would die when the leaves were gone.") That's the fantasy I'm trying to achieve when I cook and bake with pumpkin. And what could be more warm and nourishing on a blustery autumn day than a bowl of pumpkin oatmeal? I've heard of this trend of people eating oatmeal cold, but to me that sounds like a total anathema, like eating ice cream hot. Please, if you eat this oatmeal cold, don't tell me, so that in my mind, in my delightful fantasy of fall where people get cider at roadside stands and wear corduroy knockers (whatever those are), I will picture you eating this oatmeal steaming out of the oven, warming you inside and out.

Baked Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal
(Adapted from Budget Bytes)

Ingredients:

1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree (or about 2 c. homemade)
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. milk
2 1/2 c. old-fashioned oats

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8 square baking dish.

2. In a large bowl, mix pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, baking powder, and vanilla until smooth. Whisk in milk. Add oats.

3. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes, removing foil after the first 30 minutes.

Serves 6-8 and reheats beautifully in the microwave with a little added milk.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Twilight Zone Party


In ten years of marriage, my husband and I have established a tradition of hosting a few annually recurring events. For many years, one of these was our yearly Hitchcock Movie Night. Every October we'd gather with a handful of friends to eat spooky treats and watch some of Hitch's classics--Rope, Rear Window, Vertigo, Frenzy, and others. Having gone through quite a bit of the Hitchcock catalog by now, this year we thought it would be fun to switch things up a little. Recently we realized that several seasons of The Twilight Zone are on Netflix. Anthony grew up watching The Twilight Zone, but I'm a relative newbie (though I did see the Talking Tina episode as a child and was SCARRED). So we figured a Twilight Zone episode viewing night would be an interesting diversion from the lengthier Hitchcock movies--and it was! Unfortunately, due to the cold and flu season that seems to have started way earlier than usual (which almost sounds like the premise of a TZ episode), there were only a total of five of us that night, but hey, our couch isn't that big anyway. I made some campy decorations, a few creepy desserts and some mildly alcoholic cider punch, and we were good to go. My best friend Joy and I even spent the couple of weeks before the party writing and filming our own 4-minute Twilight Zone episode, which I wish I could show you here, but Blogger tells me it's too large to post. Waaaahhhh. 

Anyway, here's a rundown of the details of the evening in case you ever get the hankering to host your own homage to the uncanny in glorious black and white.

Decorations:

When it comes to party decorations, my motto is "When in doubt, go to Michael's and go crazy with patterned paper." If you noticed the picture above, you'll see I am dead serious. To set the dichromatic tone, I made a couple of signs featuring the tagline from the Twilight Zone intro: You have now crossed over into...The Twilight Zone. I printed this sentence off an image on the internet, cut it out, and pasted it onto some snazzy black-and-white paper and boom, instant Twilight Zone party decor. 


Next, rolling along with the patterned paper, I embraced my inner pennant fetish by making a black and white banner to hang over the food.


Speaking of the food...


Mother-of-mercy-what-is-that-terrifying-creation, you ask? Oh, just a pair of baby arms reaching from the grave, nothing to be alarmed about. Actually, it's supposed to be baby arms reaching up from a garden bed....which was the premise of the episode my friend Joy and I wrote and filmed. (Now you really want to see it, right?) So these peanut butter frosted, graham cracker topped brownies were a delicious little tie-in with our project. 


Loooooook into my coooookie. Our second sweet something was another visual to match the Twilight Zone theme. Even though I haven't seen all that many TZ episodes, one image I associate with the show is a spinning black and white spiral. To me, these chocolate-orange pinwheel cookies looked just like an edible version of it. I used this recipe for chocolate orange cookies, and then, instead of mixing the chocolate and orange doughs, I kept them separate and rolled them out to two rectangles of the same dimensions...


laid one on top of the other...


chilled for awhile, then rolled the whole thing up...



sliced, and baked as directed.


 Definitely a winner of a cookie I will repeat next Halloween!

In addition to our sweet treats (and some popcorn to round out the movie night menu) I made a pitcher of this chilled spiced rum and cider punch


If I had my way with October in Phoenix, we'd be able to drink our cider hot, but the sad truth is that it was 95 degrees the day of this party and I didn't want our guests sweating to the point of sliding off our leather couch. So chilled cider it was! I added a cinnamon stick or two and about a teaspoon of whole cloves to give it a little extra spice.

Last but not least, I would be remiss if I didn't share the diverse mix of Twilight Zone episodes that made the party memorable:

1. The Fever: Franklin Gibbs believes gambling is an inexcusable vice...until he tries it.
2. What You Need: A man has the mysterious ability to give people exactly what they will need in the near future.
3. Living Doll: Little Christy's doll Talking Tina has a mind of her own...and she's prepared to use it.
4. Terror at 20,000 Feet: William Shatner stars as a man flying home after 6 months in rehab for a mental breakdown. Is he really cured? 
5. Walking Distance: A very unusual, meditative episode about the transience of life and holding on to the good.

Though our party was almost two weeks ago, I've continued to ruminate on these episodes. The Twilight Zone continues to be a thought-provoking show, even 50 years after its air time. Thought-provoking enough, in fact, to consider having another party next year!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Parsley-Parmesan Whole Roasted Cauliflower


Stop. Everything. There is an awesome way to roast cauliflower that I need to make you aware of. Did you have any idea you could roast the WHOLE THING? Like the entire head of cauliflower? Well, I didn't--or at least, I did, but then I forgot. Like many a shiftless Pinterest user, I pinned something about this concept awhile back and then proceeded to not look at it for several months. Then for some reason tonight as I was contemplating how to make cauliflower to accompany a pork roast, that lovely image of a whole cauliflower roasted in all its cerebral-looking glory sprang back into my mind. Was it secretly difficult, I wondered? Was there some secret to why Western civilization has not evolved to cook cauliflower this way? Nope and nope (or I don't actually know about the second one. The Illuminati could have its reasons for keeping the general public away from whole roasted heads of cruciferous vegetables. They're weird like that.)

Roasting the entire head takes somewhat longer than roasting florets, and of course you don't get browning on as much surface area, but I'd say the interesting presentation makes up for those drawbacks. (Never thought you'd need a pie server to serve cauliflower, right?) Plus, even as a veggie caramelization devotee, I felt the flavor combination of parsley, parmesan, and mustard was a nice change from the near-blackened version I usually make.  With Halloween right around the corner, the only way I can think to improve it is to find some way to make it look even more like a brain. How's that for a healthy Halloween treat?


Parsley-Parmesan Whole Roasted Cauliflower
(Adapted from Food Network)

Ingredients:

1 head of cauliflower
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. dijon mustard
salt and pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. dried parsley flakes
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

1. Position an oven rack in the bottom of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

2. Remove the leaves from the cauliflower, then trim the stem so the cauliflower can sit flat. Place the head in a 9" round cake pan (or a roasting pan/cookie sheet--I just liked the way it fit so snugly in a round cake pan).

3. In a small bowl, mix olive oil and dijon mustard. Brush all around the outside of the cauliflower. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

4. Roast in the preheated oven until tender and browned, about 50 minutes.

5. Let the cauliflower sit for a few minutes. Mix dried parsley and Parmesan, then sprinkle to cover. Cut into wedges and serve.

Serves 5-6 as a side dish.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spinach Feta Quiche



Sometimes in this stage of life I feel like so many of my friends and family members are having babies that Target should just hand me a pack of diapers and onesies every time I pass through their automatic doors. (And take the 30 bucks right out of my wallet.) In the last month and a half, our extended family has welcomed one new niece and one new nephew. Then there's also my cousin who's pregnant, my good friend, my other good friend, and basically 80% of my Facebook friends, it seems. For me, it's fun to visit friends and loved ones with itty bitty newborns....and then hand them back to mom or dad to deal with because that stage of life is DONE for me!!! *Insane cackle* 

I jest. God only knows whether my husband and I will ever have any more children.* (*Official Catholic cover-your-butt statement.) But it is such a blessing to watch so many friends with growing families, and--maybe my favorite part--to bring them meals. This past week I was slated to take dinner to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, whose little girl had arrived a few days before. When taking a meal to new parents, I always try to stick to the following rules:

--Reasonably healthy (nursing moms need good nutrition)
--Travels well (as much as I love soup, it does not pass this test)
--No dishes need to be returned (because this is a hassle for everyone)
--Nothing too crazy (I'll save my Jellied Boar Snout recipe for another time)

There are many dinners that meet these criteria, but one of my favorites is this spinach feta quiche. You may have noticed, if you are a human being who eats solid food, that spinach and feta are a Mediterranean Dream Team. 

 


So it will probably come as no surprise to you that this spinach feta quiche is delicious. But I will tell you, having tried MANY such combinations in my many years as a quiche eater, that this one is far and away the best I've ever had. The addition of cheddar kicks it up a notch to cheesy, spinachy, herby bliss. And while it meets all the above standards for a great meal to take to new parents (baked in a disposable aluminum pan so no dishes need be washed or returned), it could also just as easily make a pretty brunch item or dinner for vegetarian guests. Any way you slice it--literally--this is one you don't want to miss.


Spinach Feta Quiche
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp. butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 10-oz. package frozen spinach
1 6-oz. package herb and garlic crumbled feta cheese
1 c. shredded Cheddar cheese, divided 
1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
4 eggs, beaten
3/4 c. milk
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Saute garlic and onion in the butter until lightly browned, 7-10 minutes. Stir in spinach, feta, and 1/2 c. cheddar and heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into pie crust.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper. Pour over spinach mixture.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/2 c. cheddar and bake an additional 35-40 minutes until set in the center. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

Serves about 5 as a main dish. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cream Cheese Apple Tart


So it's been two weeks since my last post, which is the longest I've ever gone without blogging since first starting this endeavor last June. I'm sure all three of my readers are seething with rage and anxiety. But it's been a super busy few weeks, which tends to leave blogging in the dust. First my husband went out of town, meaning I was fending for myself with three little kids for a few days. Then I decided to give him a taste of his own medicine by going out of town myself for three days to my 10-year college reunion in Illinois. The fellowship was sweet, the fall colors were gorgeous, and my poor little tuckus was just about frozen right off of my body. I had signed up to do the Homecoming 5k, but when the morning dawned at about 35 degrees with snow flurries, I decided I'll save my running in extreme weather conditions for the Zombie Apocalypse, thank you very much. All in all, it was a great trip, though.

The colors! And the friends! And the memories!
The day I returned from the Chicago area, my brother came to town for a few days, inspiring the following goofy faces like any good brother/uncle: 


Since my kids were on fall break, we were able to have some quality time with Uncle Joel, visiting the pumpkin patch, going to parks, and arguing over whether it's okay for him to teach my children how to belch on command. 

Now that things are beginning to settle back down to normal and we're almost halfway through October, I'm ready to share this lovely dessert to ring in the autumn spirit, if you haven't already rung it in yourself with tall boots over jeans and pumpkin spice lattes to the point of credit card debt. It has two of my favorite flavors of fall--apples and cinnamon--with a unique twist, something different from the usual apple pie. (Not that there's anything wrong with the usual apple pie.) 


I've made this twice now and received several compliments on its taste and appearance. The fancy-looking apple pinwheel effect on top definitely gives it visual appeal, and the taste is just as good as the look. Plus, I love the unexpected cheesecakey layer hiding underneath the apples.


And doncha just want to grab that one gooey-looking cinnamon apple on top?


I'd be willing to bet you'll make a lot of friends if you bring this in place of apple pie to your family's Thanksgiving this year...but why wait until then? It's October--let the autumn eating commence!

Cream Cheese Apple Tart
(Adapted from The Cooking Channel)

Ingredients:

For the crust:
1 homemade or purchased pie crust

For the cream filling:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the apple top:
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:

1. Bake the pie crust according to package directions in a 10-inch tart pan (or 9-inch pie plate).

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

3. In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese, egg, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Pour into the baked pie crust.

4. In a large bowl, mix sugar and cinnamon. Add apple slices and toss to coat. Arrange individual apple slices in a pinwheel pattern on top of the cream cheese filling, starting at the outer edge of the tart and working inward.

5. Bake about 40 minutes, until apples are tender and golden.

Serves 8.


Monday, September 29, 2014

6 Things You Didn't Know About Fat


There are various ways to look at the word "fat." Most of us think of the word with pejorative overtones, something we don't want applied to us. The adjectives aren't pretty and evoke feelings of playground humiliation: chubby, flabby, plump, chunky, pudgy. Then of course you could think of "fat" like that fat check you got when you finally sold your Van Halen live-in-concert VHS collection on Craigslist. And don't even get me started on "phat" (mostly because, even as a child of the '90s, I still don't think I get it.) But there's another set of terms I want to talk about today. Terms like lipid, adipose, triglyceride, sterol, fatty acid. These describe the other kind of fat, the macronutrient every human being requires to sustain life. There are so many fascinating aspects to dietary fat and the way our bodies use it, and quite possibly a lot you didn't know.

As I've progressed in my coursework toward becoming a Dietetic Technician, I've come to understand so much of what always seemed confusing about fat nomenclature. Since I've learned how to navigate the different kinds of fat (like that mental image?) I thought I'd share some of the information I've found interesting and helpful.

1. Let's start with an cool trivia point: what's the fattest organ in your body? Your brain! About 60% of your brain's matter is fat. So if someone calls you a "fathead," you can be proud to know you're perfectly normal. (And they're a fathead, too. Obviously.)

2. Fat provides 9 calories per gram (whereas carbs and protein provide 4). This is true across the board for any fat. That's why, even though nutrition labels list number of calories from fat in a food, you can always calculate it yourself by multiplying the grams of fat by 9.

3. What's the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats? You probably know they must be related because they have that word "saturated" in common. To understand the difference between these types of fat, you have to understand what "saturated" means. Fat is made up of carbon chains. In saturated fat, all of the available carbons in the chain are bonded with hydrogen...kind of like how I always felt at junior high dances when all the cute boys immediately paired up with the popular girls. All the carbons are taken, paired off, saturated. In unsaturated fats, however, there's a break in the music, a chance for a different kind of bond. Instead of all the carbons being taken up by hydrogen, something called a double bond occurs, which, instead of bonding a carbon to hydrogen, bonds carbon to another carbon, leaving it not entirely saturated...in other words, unsaturated. And the only difference between a monounsaturated fat and a polyunsaturated fat is that a mono has only one of these breaks, whereas a poly has two or more.

4. Now that you know the difference between saturated and unsaturated fat, it probably makes sense why saturated fat is generally solid at room temperature. Everything is paired off and packed in, making it denser. On the other hand, unsaturated fats (like oils) are generally liquid at room temperature for the opposite reason.    

5. What about trans fats? What are they and why are they so scary? Somewhere along the line, scientists realized that they could mess with the chemical structure of unsaturated fats (i.e. oils) by plopping in some extra hydrogen where it didn't really belong to create what are called trans fats. The process of unnaturally adding hydrogen is known as hydrogenation. So when you see the word "hydrogenated" on an ingredient list, you know the food contains some amount of trans fat, even if the label says 0 grams trans fat. (The FDA allows foods with .5 grams or less per serving to round down to zero.) Research has yet to show exactly why trans fats have a negative effect on health, but they have definitively been linked to coronary heart disease and several other conditions you don't want to get.

6. One last kind of fat you hear a lot about is Omega 3s. The reason these unsaturated fats have this name is simply due to the spot where they have their carbon-to-carbon bond: on the third carbon from the end. Bet you can guess where Omega-6 and Omega-9 have theirs now, too. 

Okay, that was kind of a lot of chemistry. I should probably stop now. But I have so many more things I want to tell you about fat! I'll be hoarding up my fat facts for another post soon, focusing on fat's effects in your body. And if you're still hungry for macronutrient info, you can head over to my carbohydrate facts page!