Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve Blueberry Muffins

It is 6 o’clock on this Tuesday morning, the very last morning of the year, and I am sitting at my cold, semi-dark kitchen counter. I have in front of me a mug filled with a minty blend of warm herbal tea and my laptop. The kids are snug between their soft flannel sheets and thick down comforters sleeping peacefully; the dogs are curled up into tight balls on the couch; the cat is running around like a crazy person through the living room, into the hall, and back trying to communicate to me that I need to drop everything I’m doing and fill her food bowl to the rim immediately . . . again.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting

The weeks before Christmas are pretty eventful in my circle of family and friends. There are birthdays and anniversaries galore. In fact, in the stretch from December 12th through the 20th there is at least one birthday every day. I used to find this fun but this year my birthday-Scrooge side took over and I felt like it's just another thing to have to deal with. I say this because my birthday falls on one of those days.

As a child I loved that my birthday was so close to Christmas. It was just a part of the holiday season. My birthday gifts were placed under the Christmas tree alongside the rest of the family’s presents but mine were the ones in the colorful birthday wrap (my mom was good about not using anything with a holiday theme for my birthday). While kids my age had to hide in their bedrooms while their parents had co-workers over for cocktails and hor d’oeuvres, I got to invite all my friends over for cake and ice cream and a spirited round of musical chairs. It made the merriment of the holidays last even longer. And then I met Colin and found out his birthday was the day after mine. A one-day birthday celebration stretched into two!

But this year I dreaded the whole scene. I told everyone (including myself) that it was because it was so close to Christmas and it was just one more thing to deal with but I don’t think I was being honest.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Jam Thumbprint Cookies

As you may have noticed, we've been doing some baking around here. After all, nothing helps you make it through the last week until Christmas like making cookies. Today we made jam thumbprint cookies. I'm not sure where this recipe originally came from. I've been making these cookies every year for Christmas for over ten years from a recipe that was handwritten on a now much abused index card.

Jam thumbprint cookies are wonderful little things: crumbly, buttery shortbread cookies coated in sweet, toasted coconut and topped with a jewel of fruity jam. Not only are they tasty but they look too beautiful to resist. And they are fun to make as is demonstrated here by my wonderful hand model Mina.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Peppermint Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

I saw a bottle of peppermint extract at the store a few weeks ago and I was so excited that I bought it. However, when I got home I realized I already had a full bottle. So I've been trying to find ways to use it. Luckily, it's almost Christmas and when it comes to Christmas chocolate and peppermint go hand in hand.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Persimmon Butter

I went to pick up produce from Skarsgard Farms (a local CSA) last Monday and saw a box of persimmons with a sign that read, "Take 5, free." I asked about them and was told that they were slightly bruised, enough so that the farm didn't feel comfortable charging people for them but not so much that they were inedible.

Persimmons are an orange-skinned fall fruit (actually, they are technically a berry) with a jelly-like flesh that are the size of a medium tomato. They come in many varieties including Fuyu and Hachyia When ripe they have a sweet, delicate flavor. When under ripe they are extremely bitter and chalky.

Admittedly, persimmons and I get along well enough, but we are more acquaintances than close friends. We really only see each other from time to time and stop to chat when we do cross paths but don't really know much about each other lives. And so, with visions of persimmon bread and broiled persimmons dancing through my head, I placed five plump persimmons in my bag, took them home, a put them in the fruit and vegetable crisper.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pho Soup

The last few weeks of the year are feeling more like, I imagine, the last few miles of a marathon (I've never actually run a marathon, mind you). Christmas makes life crazy enough and then add on the kids' concerts, holiday shows, and class and club celebrations, and then throw Colin and my birthdays into the mix and our days (particularly our weekends) are sheer pandemonium.

This December chaos makes me crave a nice grounding soup. You know, something that helps me feel settled and soothed. One of my favorite soups is this pho. It's warming, nourishing, flavorful, and easy to make. This version is a simple soup: tofu, and soba noodles garnished with fresh cilantro, basil, green onions, sliced jalapenos, and a squirt of lime juice. The flavor, however, comes from an amazingly flavorful broth that is infused with coriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, and bonito flakes.  This is my go-to lunch when I want a warm, healthy meal but it would also make a great light dinner.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Café au lait

I would like to state for the record that caffeine is not my friend. I know that aside from being a mild stimulant it has many medical uses. Caffeine is believed to lower a persons risk for cardiovascular disease, Parkinson disease, the development of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. It aids in the treatment of migraines and ADHD. And with coffee in particular, is a good source of antioxidants. 

And people love the stuff. I am not one of those people.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls with Maple Mascarpone Icing

First, let me ask you to please forgive me. I feel I should be, as tomorrow is Thanksgiving, talking about pomegranate glazed turkey or rosemary mashed potatoes, but I'm not. See, we woke up the other morning to about an inch of snow--our first snow of the season!--and my attention was pulled...

I love Albuquerque snow. Like Santa or the tooth fairy, it is rather shy and tends to arrive in the middle of the night when there are no witnesses. I'll wake up in the morning and feel a certain charge in the air, like something is different, like something big happened during the night, and, sure enough, I will discover that the world is covered in soft white powder. The best part is that the snow usually melts off the roads and sidewalks by mid-day so there is hardly a need to own a snow shovel. (Although, just for the record we did pick up a snow shover at an estate sale a few years back.) 

I woke up at three o'clock Sunday morning with that familiar excited feeling. I quietly slid out of bed, tip-toed across the cold hard-wood floors, past the snoring dogs, and pulled back our bedroom curtain a crack to peek outside. Sure enough, everything was dusted with snow. I was so excited that I jumped back into bed and woke Colin up to tell him. Needless to say, we were up early to enjoy the snow. And what is better on a cold snowy morning then fresh warm cinnamon rolls?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Chocolate Cream Swiss Roll-Up Cake

I was sitting around reading cookbooks the other day when I read a recipe for German Chocolate Roll Cake in Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson. My mind was immediately pulled into a deep hypnotic state by the tantalizing spiral of cake and filling. 

When I finally regained consciousness I awoke to find that an idea had taken seed in my head. I should swap the German chocolate filling for creamy, marshmallow filling. (Don't get me wrong, I love German chocolate cake--you can't go wrong with chocolate, coconut, and pecans--but I think the jar of marshmallow fluff in my pantry must have beckoned me in my highly suggestible state.) And just because the cake isn't chocolatey enough already, serve it with warm chocolate ganache.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chocolatey Mustache-on-a-Stick Amaretto Sugar Cookies

It's that special time of year when facial hair is in the air, commonly known as No Shave November or Movember. Some people grow their hair to raise awareness of men's health issues, such as prostate cancer. For others, it's an excuse to put away their razors and let their hair loose. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Zen of Homemade Mascarpone

I invite you to join me today as I guide you through the Zen of making mascarpone (a soft Italian cheese similar to cream cheese) using a recipe I slightly adapted from Manu's Menu. Please don't think of this as merely a method for making mascarpone but as a spiritual journey of self discovery! If you follow my instructions closely you will find your mind at ease and your heart at peace because life is about doing, not achieving.

There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.  - Guatama Buddha

Step I: Prepare a Double Boiler

1. Hold a medium saucepan in your hand. Feel the pan's weight as the muscles in your arm quiver. Notice your mind jump to a future in which you lifting weights regularly. Gently bring your mind back to reality. 

2. Carry the saucepan to the sink and place it under the faucet. Turn on the cold water. Hear the water rushing from the tap. Fill the saucepan with an inch and a half of water.

3. Turn off the tap. Notice the sounds now present in the absence of pouring water: the sparrows singing in the yard; the gentle hum of the refrigerator; the kids screaming at each other in the bedroom.

4. Walk mindfully, step by step, heel to toe, to the stove. Step carefully over the 70 pound dog sprawled out apparently dead asleep in the middle of the kitchen floor without spilling the water, even when said dog jumps up as you are mid-straddle.

5. Place the saucepan on the stove top. 

6. Place a medium or large metal bowl on the saucepan. Make sure the bowl is large enough so that the bottom sits above the water.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Baked Pears with Cranberry Cornbread Stuffing

'Tis the season for apples, right? Apples are synonymous with autumn and seeing as it is already late October, it's all the talk on the "virtual" street (at least the streets I walk down). Everywhere I turn people are dusting off their favorite apple recipes and getting down to work making pies, cakes, cookies, butters, sauces, muffins, pancakes, and a probably a million other tasty foods to use up the bushels of apples they hand picked from their local orchard. If I have to read in a blog or magazine another person complain--or brag--about how they have too many apples I'm going to be sick.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

New England Vacation: Hampton Beach, New Hampshire (Part 4 of 4)

After our fun in Bar Harbor with our friends we parted ways. They had to go back to work but we still had a couple of nights before our flight home so we spent a day in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. New Hampshire has 18 miles of coastline, the shortest coastline of any coastal U.S. state. Hampton Beach is one of the safest beaches to swim in terms of water quality and hosts a number of events ever summer including The USAV Beach Volleyball Tournament and the Annual Hampton Beach Master Sand Competition.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

New England Vacation: Acadia National Park, Maine (Part 3 of 4)

Acadia Nation Park is over 47,000 acres of stunning granite peaks, woodlands, streams, lakes, sea cliffs, and shorelines and is accessible by trails, paved paths, and old carriage roads. Within the park is Cadillac Mountain: at 1,530 feet it is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. The park is also home to a variety of wildlife including moose, black bears, foxes, bobcats, porcupine, and beavers.

Friday, October 18, 2013

New England Vacation: Bar Harbor, Maine (Part 2 of 4)

Bar Harbor, or "Bah Habah" as pronounced by the locals, is a small tourist town located on the east side of Mount Desert Island, Maine (southeast of Banger). It sits against Frenchman Bay and Acadia National Park. The area also houses multimillion dollar summer estates owned by families such as the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, the Astors, the Fords, and even Martha Stewart. We met some close friends there and had a lot of fun exploring the flavors, sights, and sounds. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

New England Vacation: Portland, Maine (Part 1 of 4)

Colin and I had our tenth wedding anniversary this August and we wanted to do something special to celebrate. A vacation seemed like the way to go so we decided to take a family trip to New England. It happened to work out that the best time for us to go was in mid-October. Perfect! We got to see New England in the Fall.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Soupe aux pois jaunes (Yellow Pea Soup)

Welcome to autumn: the time of year we rest comfortably between the stifling heat of the summer and the oppressive cold of the winter. I'm kidding; I love summer and winter. But I can't contain my excitement when the seasons begin to shift.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mini Strawberry Basil Pastries

Sometimes things have a way of coming together, don't they? The stars align and everything falls into place. Call it fate, kismet, providence, but I found myself with a jar of homemade strawberry basil jam and a pie crust dough in the refrigerator and a brand new ravioli stamp in my hand: The universe wanted me to make mini pastries. 

Okay, I'll be honest. I went out and bought the ravioli stamp and then came home and made the jam and pie crust dough so I could make these. Hey, sometimes we have to create our own destiny.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Homemade Strawberry Basil Jam

Somedays I have an arrogant, been-there-done-that attitude toward life. Oh, I'm sure there's still plenty out there to see, but believe you me, I've amassed a fair number of experiences in my day. I sit around blissfully ignorant in my self confidence and think myself cultivated. 

Then an event occurs that shakes me to my core. A meteor blazes through my atmosphere and I realize I've been living in darkness. For just an instant I catch a glimpse of what lies beyond my world and I am humbled . . . Is it possible that I am not as sophisticated as I think I am?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Spiced Carrot Muffins with Brown Butter Icing

I made spiced carrot muffins for breakfast the other morning. Here's the thing though: I broke two hard-and-fast rules of baking when I made them.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Rosemary Apricot Chicken Salad

Lunch is a tricky meal, don't you think? It's easy to grab something fast (i.e. junky) and eat on the run or skip it all together. And sandwiches in a brown sack don't sing to me.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sweet Sorrow (An Exercise in Bricolage)

A candy wrapper, a once proud and dignified square of cellophane, now sat crumpled and discarded in an ashtray. “Where did my life go so wrong?” it sobbed. “They all wanted me. People used to stare at me, drool over me. And now look at me!”

“You fool!” spat a thin and riddled disk of candy from the other side of the ashtray. “You damn fool! They didn’t want you. They wanted me! And now that they’ve had their fill they’ve left me here like some common piece of trash!” The lump of candy shot the wrapper a disdainful glare before dissolving into peppermint tears.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Orange-Juice Yogurt Popsicles and Frozen Grapes

Everyone is back in school here. Actually the kids started a couple of weeks ago. In fact, they've been back long enough that our house no longer carries the sharp, rubbery smell of pink erasers. (Why is it that pink erasers smell so good?)

I hope they enjoyed their summer. I wonder what their memories of summer break will include. I get caught up in the idea that we have to do something big--go on a huge trip or sign them up for some amazing camp--to make summer memorable. But when I look back at my own childhood, it was the simple everyday things that have stuck with me over the years.

I think back to days spent with my grandparents in Los Alamos, NM when I was 8. My grandfather would take my brother, my cousin, and me stream fishing for rainbow trout. Our little legs slid down steep slopes, scurried under fallen logs, and tramped along narrow trails lined with poison ivy trying to keep pace with him. By the end of the day though, we would arrive back home with a sack of fish, a bunch of wild spearmint, and quelites (awful, bitter greens he said were wild spinach but tasted more like noxious weeds).

The trout were stuffed with the mint and sauteed in a skillet. We each got a plate with a fish, a heaping pile of wilted queiltes, and a wedge of lemon. And as much as I wanted to love the food we'd spent all afternoon hunting and foraging for, I would lose my nerve to try it when I peered down at my plate and saw the fish's crisped, silvery scales and dead, milky eye staring back up at me.

I remember back at home hanging out with my best friend and feeling so grown up for a ten-year-old: I had cash (10¢ scrounged from the couch cushions) and a sweet ride (a rusty, blue and white, one-speed bike with high-rise handlebars and a banana seat) to take down to the Sno-Cone shack at the edge of our neighborhood. We'd fly through the streets as the sun set, the heat of the day still rolling off the asphalt, sucking sweet, syrupy, shaved ice out of paper cones (her favorite flavor was Tiger Blood and mine was Bubble Gum).

And how could I forget countless afternoons my brother and I spent at the pool up the street? The air always smelled of fresh-cut grass, chlorine, and that coconut sun-tan lotion that was so popular in the 80's. Our bodies twisted and slipped through the cool water until we were so hungry and tired our legs could barely support us.

Back at home, mom pepped us up with wholesome, homemade treats: sweet, snappy frozen grapes and cold and creamy, sweet and tangy orange-juice yogurt popsicles.

I guess these are the types of memories I hope the kids have.

Orange-Juice Yogurt Popsicles
makes approximately 12 3-ounce popsicles

1 quart whole-milk yogurt
3/4 cup orange juice concentrate, thawed
2 tablespoons honey (optional)

Whisk the ingredients together in a large bowl until well combined. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze for 6 hours, or until completely frozen.

Frozen Grapes

1 bunch of seedless grapes, green or red

Wash and de-stem the grapes. Place on a jelly roll pan or baking sheet with a lip. Freeze for 4 hours or until completely frozen. Serve frozen, do not allow them to thaw. They should last for 3 or 4 days when stored in the freezer in a sealed container.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tempest in a Teapot

I got a new teapot the other day. Who cares, right? I do! This is the third teapot I've brought home in the last 5 months. You realize that at this rate I will have 40 teapots in 5 years, 112 in 15 years . . . People: I will have amassed 1,000 teapots by the time I turn 173 years old. It's a nightmare.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Gus the Cat (3/1995-8/2013)

Sad days in our house: My cat Gus passed away this week. Gus was a one-of-a-kind kitty. If you had the pleasure to meet him you know what I mean. If you didn't, I'll try to explain.

When I was 16 my mom took me down to the animal shelter and told me to pick a kitten. I couldn't believe me luck;  I'd always loved kittens. (Looking back, I suspect my mom had ulterior motives. See, I was in the throes of teenage rebellion and wanted to spend all of my time with my bad-influence friends and as far away from my wearisome house and my stodgy parents as I could get. My mom might have hoped a kitten would provide me with incentive to spend more time at home.)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Boring Old Tuesday's Cardamom Pound Cake

Some mornings I wake up with a list of the upcoming days tasks parading single-file through my head: Get the groceries (don't forget garlic powder); water and weed the garden; print out passport applications for the kids; clean the bathrooms; etc. Its funny how these little mundane tasks appear so innocuous on their own but when our backs are turned they quickly band together and hijack life.

Then there are mornings when I push all that aside and think, Today I feel like creating something beautiful. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Bandelier and Sangria

We went out of town this past weekend to White Rock to visit family. Saturday was a pretty relaxing day--we hung out at the pool--so on Sunday we decided to go for a hike and see Bandelier National Monument.  The kids have never been there and the last time Colin and I went was right before we were married (which will be ten years ago this August!).

Monday, July 15, 2013

Malted Buttermilk Biscuits

I love July in New Mexico. June is just hot and dry. June causes me to lose my will to live. June is the month I fantasize about moving far, far away. And then July arrives. The mornings are bright and sunny, by 10 o' clock it starts to get hot. By 1 o' clock the heat is sweltering. And then just when you think you're going to die the clouds roll in like a breath of fresh air and cool everything off. And if your lucky, it rains.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil-Pesto Pasta

I woke up yesterday morning around 3:00 am and peeking out the window I noticed that there was this weird wet stuff falling from the sky. It was everywhere: falling on the ground, in the street, even on the house. I think I read about this strange phenomenon in a book once. Apparently it's something called "rain." 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Shirazi Salad

My oven is probably my favorite thing in my kitchen but in the summer we don't see much of each other. The parting can be bittersweet but over the last few days the temperatures here in Albuquerque have been stretching to 100F and I really haven't had an urge to fire it up. In fact, about the only thing I've wanted to do lately is lay on the couch with a fan pointed at my head, reading a book, and drinking pitchers of ice tea.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lemony-Fennelly Bread

I love homemade bread but it took me a while to figure out how to make it properly. I used to really struggle; my bread would always turn out super dense or come out with huge air pockets in the middle. Then I got a book that changed my life called The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Bronwen Godrey. I love this book. If you've ever had an interest in making whole-grain breads you should read this book. Not only does it have a ton of recipes, it breaks breadmaking down into its steps, explaining why each stage is important, the science behind the step, and what exactly to look for.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Blood Orange Homage

Vampires--of all things--have recently become a big part of my life. It seems I have been spending a great deal of my time lately absorbed in vampire literature and movies. They have always been my favorite monsters; these bourgeois villains have a classy allure that you just don't get with, say, mindless zombies (no offense, Matt and Michelle). And I love watching how the stories surrounding vampires, and vampire slayers for that matter, keep changing. No longer are they just aristocrats sitting in castles; now they run hotels and are involved in weird love triangles with humans and werewolves and are hunted by cheerleaders and presidents. Their stories can be funny, romantic, tragic, and scary.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Lemon Sugar Cookies

Last week was a tumultuous week.  You know the kind, where life is rushing by so fast you can't catch your breath. It can be nice to shake things up a bit but in too heavy a dose I find myself craving my normal routines.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mango Salsa on Grilled Chicken Tacos

Last week I came home with some ripe mangos in our CSA box. We can easily go through mango with our usual smoothies and lassies, and of course they are great just sliced, but I wasn't ready to settle for the standard just yet. I wanted to try something different, I just wasn't sure what to do. Then I woke up yesterday with one word on my lips: salsa. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Lemony Chicken and Orzo Soup

Spring is my favorite time of year. Once I catch that first suggestion of spring in the air I'm done for. I put all thoughts of winter aside and focus the changes that are to come: the feel of warm sun on my bare shoulder, the sweet smell of flowers in the air, finches singing to each other in the trees, the delicate green blades of grass that push their way up among the yellowish brown lawns. I usually sense this change is approaching long before it actually happens, like in February, long before the winter is actually over. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Helbeh (or Fenugreek Cake)

If I was forced to describe myself using one word, I think I would choose introvert. In the book, Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert confesses that, despite her wanderlust, she does not make the best traveler. She describes how her appearance makes her stick out and that her face is a "transparent transmitter" of every thought. This is me, except not when I visit other countries. This is me in new situations. When I get flustered and nervous, it shows. I blush, my eyes looks scared, my voice shakes. Then I try to hide all of it by laughing. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rose Ice Cream: To Mango or Not to Mango, or A Rose by Any Other Name is a Mango, or Rosencrantz and Mangostern

OK, enough Shakespeare. Unless anybody has any others???

I've had this idea in my head for a while now: rose ice cream. You see, I was shopping at a store that sells loose leaf herbs and teas a few months ago when I overheard two employees talking about what tea would be best to give as a gift to a certain relative. One woman suggested a black tea with rose. "It's really good with milk," she said. That struck a chord in me. Or maybe, it was more like a zing.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Skillet Rosemary Focaccia Bread

I've got two words for you: March Madness!!! Oh yeah! Every March during Spring Break we pull out our TV, wipe the dust off of our rabbit ears (yeah, I know), and sit back and watch a lot of college basketball. Every year I also make a batch of rosemary focaccia bread to munch on.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Roman-Style Artichokes

We are a member of our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Every week I go down to their warehouse and pick out 14 different types of seasonal organic fruits and vegetables that are either grown here or traded with another CSA in our region. Over the last two weeks I have acquired 4 artichokes that have been sitting in our refrigerator. I've been a little unsure of how to use them. The truth is that my family does't care for artichokes and I don't have much experience preparing them. But I thought maybe if I could find just the right recipe I could win my family over and turn them into artichoke lovers!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Yogurt, Two Ways

I frequently used to make homemade yogurt when my kids were little, but, unfortunately it became one of those comforting rituals that fell by the wayside as time became scarce. However, I recently decided to revive this old tradition and make up a batch.