Monday, December 27, 2010

I love you, Santa Claus

I normally love the Christmas season, but this year I just couldn't find my Christmas spirit. I think it has to do a lot with the fact that this hasn't really been a "break" for me. Sure, I have a month off of school, but instead I've been working 35-40 hour weeks, at a theme park, during the busiest season. I haven't relaxed as much as I would like. Also, because I work at a theme park, it didn't seem likely that I would get more than 3 days home with my family.

But this year, just in the nick of time, I received a small Christmas miracle. I ended up getting an extra 2 days off of work, for a total of 5 days home with my family. I also finally got to spend Christmas with some extended family for the first time in about 8 years. It was lovely. And Santa Claus was very, very good to me.

Judging by the picture, I obviously made out like a bandit. The obvious star is my very own KitchenAid Stand Mixer. I'm in love. You can definitely expect some recipes featuring my mixer in the near future. My mom/Santa really understands my dorky love of kitchen gadgets. She gave me a nice cutlery caddy and a spice rack. My wonderful sister gifted me some plates to feature the food for the blog. And I also received two cookbooks; the KitchenAid Baking Companion Cookbook and the Skinny Bitch cookbook, which is full of vegan recipes. Both cookbooks are beautiful, and I can't wait to test out some recipes.

All in all, I ended up having a wonderful family, filled with the most important thing: family. The gifts were just gravy...mushroom gravy (my favorite). I hope you all had a wonderful, family filled holiday. I wish you safe travels and a very happy new year for you and your loved ones.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

So this post is coming a little late, as I'm sure every has already held their Christmas parties or if your party is tonight, a menu has already been planned. But the food I served isn't especially Christmas-y, so I would recommend it for any time of the year. I made empenadas as the main event, served with rice. I changed up the empenada filling from my original recipe. And for dessert, ginger sandwich cookies with cream cheese frosting and an eggnog cheesecake. I never got a photo of the eggnog cheesecake, but the recipe can be found on the side of Silk Nog. It's delicious, trust me. We also held a secret Santa at my party and I pulled my good friend Manny, the tres leches lover. So what better to make as a gift than an entire tres leches, just for him? I couldn't think of anything better, so that's what I made. It was a lot of cooking, but it was worth it.

Revised Empenadas:
  • 2 packages regular size empenadas
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can rotel tomatoes, drained
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 small bell pepper, diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Oil for frying
In a saute pan, saute the onion and bell pepper until soft. Add garlic. Stir in black beans and tomatoes. Heat the beans and tomatoes. Stir in spices and cilantro. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool. Using a large cutting board, make your empenada assembly station. Flour the cutting board. Lay out the empenada discs. Fill with roughly a tablespoon of filling, sprinkle with cheese. Fold over and seal edges with a fork. Do this until all 20 empenadas are done. Once the empenadas are assembled, heat a large pan and add oil up to half an inch in the pan. Fry empenadas three at a time, roughly 1-2 minutes on each side, until light golden brown. Set on a plate lined paper towels. Serve hot.

Cilantro Lime Rice:
  • 1 1/2 cups white rice
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh, minced cilantro
  • 1/2 of a lime
Heat water til boiling, add rice. Turn heat down, cook for about 20 minutes until rice is tender. When rice is done, stir in cilantro. Squeeze the lime over the rice. Stir and serve along side the empenadas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cranberry Dark Chocolate Biscotti

Before I hand over this biscotti recipe I thought I would mention that I was approached again by CSN Stores. If you remember from my previous post about them, they really are great. They have all sorts of gifts that would be great for the holidays. I loved my baking sheets and still use them all the time. They also have other great, non-cooking products. They have a really nice laptop messenger bag that I have my eye on. Keep your eye out for another product review.

Back to the food. One of my favorite blogs that I read on a regular basis is Basil & Wine. The food always looks amazing and it inspires me to try to eat more healthfully. A few weeks ago a recipe from cranberry white chocolate biscotti appeared. I had never made biscotti before, and it's possible I had never really eaten biscotti either, but I just couldn't get the recipe out of my head. I made a few adjustments for my own taste preferences and ingredients I had in the pantry. Also, I feel that the original author's suggestion and baking while listening to Christmas music is a key element to the success of your biscotti.

Cranberry Dark Chocolate Biscotti:
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 flax eggs (2 tablespoons flax, 6 tablespoons water)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1-2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1/3 dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350. In a small bowl, combine cranberries and orange juice, then set aside. In a large bowl combine the flours and baking powder. In a separate bowl whisk the flax eggs and sugar, about 2-3 minutes until sugar is dissolved. Add zest, vanilla, and almond extracts to the wet mixture. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Add cranberries and mix into a dough. Form the dough into a 9x2 log, place on a greased baking sheet (or line with parchment paper). Bake for 25 minutes, then cool for at least 10 minutes. Reduce the oven to 325. Slice the long into 1/2 inch slices. Bake for 10 minutes on each side. Melt chocolate over a double boiler. When the biscotti have cooled, drizzle with the chocolate. Place the chocolate drizzled biscotti in the fridge until the chocolate hardens. Serve with a cup of coffee; dipping is highly encouraged!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Carrot Soup with Croutons and Asparagus

I first had this soup about 3 years ago at my very good friend's birthday party. Everyone at that party, myself included, fell in love at first bite. Reportedly, some party guests felt the urge to hug the cook. The soup was that good. After much begging, I received a copy of the recipe. And that dear friend posted the recipe on her blog. I insist that you make this soup. It's amazing.

To go along with the soup I made homemade croutons and crispy asparagus. Both recipes couldn't be easier. You'll notice that both recipes have almost identical ingredients and methods. They're so simple they almost aren't even recipes. But really, simple food is the best food.

Simple Croutons:
  • Day old bread, 4-5 thick slices
  • Olive oil, about 1 tablespoon
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt
  • Pepper
Preheat your oven to 275. Cut the bread into cubes. Drizzle the olive oil over the bread. Sprinkle with garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste. Toss the bread. Spread on a baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, until crisp. Top your soup with the croutons.

Crispy Asparagus:
  • 1 package asparagus
  • Olive oil, about 1 tablespoon
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt
  • Pepper
Preheat your oven to 400. Cut off the ends of the asparagus spears. Drizzle the olive oil over the asparagus. Sprinkle with garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste. Pop into the oven for about 20 minutes, until very crispy. Eat them straight up or dip them in your soup.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Chili Mac

I know all of you north of Florida have been experiencing cold weather and even snow for a few months now. But here in good ole’ sunny Florida, this week is the first week of consistently chilly temperatures; and when I say “chilly” I mean the highs are just at or below 70 degrees, with nights in the 40’s or 50’s. So what did I make to celebrate these chilly temperatures? Chili! I thought about following a recipe but that seemed boring. So I looked at a few different recipes and then I just winged it. Turns out, chili is pretty hard to mess up. I love to serve mine over some macaroni with a sprinkling of cheese, but feel free to serve yours straight up. Here is my version. Feel free to add or subtract whatever you like.

Basic Vegetarian Chili:

  • 1 package veggie crumbles (optional)
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can Rotel tomatoes (diced tomatoes with green chilies)
  • 3 cans beans, any variety, drained and rinsed (I usually do a dark/light kidney bean combination)
  • 1 can vegetable broth
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 4 oz. frozen butternut squash, defrosted
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large soup pot, bring to medium/medium high heat, coat with olive oil. Sauté onions, bell pepper, and carrot until soft, about five minutes. Add garlic, sauté for one minute. Stir in the squash. Add beans, tomatoes and rotel tomatoes with liquid. Stir in spices. Add vegetable broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover, reduce heat, and simmer for one hour or until ready to serve. Serve over macaroni, sprinkle with cheese.

A few tips about this recipe:

  • The veggie crumbles are completely optional. They are really tasty, but if you don’t have them on hand I wouldn’t run to the store to get some just for this recipe. I’ve made this recipe with or without them and it is equally delicious.
  • The squash is also optional, but highly recommended. It gives this chili some added veggie power and makes it somewhat silky and smooth.
  • Feel free to adjust the heat level of the chili to your liking.