2013 In Review (Thanks for a great year, readers!)

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,900 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Green Soup

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If you’re anything like me, you tend to overindulge during the holiday season – we’re not even to New Year’s, yet – and then regret it later.  I know that after rich, decadent meals and equally sinful desserts, all I want is a Big Salad, à la Elaine Benes.  My body craves vegetables, leafy greens, and no meat whatsoever.  Let me introduce to you the Green Soup.

There are many variations of this soup out there on the Internet, but this one is mine.  When you make yours, feel free to follow my lead, or throw in a few different veggies (whatever you have leftover in the fridge).  You can omit the vinegar and use lemon juice instead; you are welcome to add a little cream instead of Greek yogurt (or leave out the dairy altogether); and please add any herbs you have laying about, though I wouldn’t use rosemary, as it can overwhelm a dish.  What I’m saying is this soup is flexible and forgiving.

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I used a combination of Swiss chard, spinach, and cilantro for my greens.  Kale would work nicely here, as well as mustard greens, or even a bit of peppery arugula.  Instead of just using one type of onion, I opted for half a red onion (leftover in my fridge), 1 1/2 yellow onions, and a medium-sized leek.  Again, it’s all a matter of taste with this soup.  If you prefer a certain type of onion, use that.  I enjoy the flavor combinations those ingredients provide.  I added about 4 garlic cloves, along with a small(ish) potato and 1/4 cup Arborio rice to use as thickeners.

The great flavor of this soup is pushed along by the slowly caramelized onions, leeks, and garlic – this takes roughly 30 minutes, but is well worth the wait.  All in all, the prep work for this soup was a little time-consuming, but don’t let that deter you.  Also, don’t obsess about chopping all your ingredients to perfection – you’ll be puréeing this soup later on.

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Read the rest of this entry »


High-Contrast Cookies

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Yesterday I spent roughly 5 hours babysitting a pot of bolognese slated for dinner that evening.  My friend Pat loves making fresh pasta (as do I) and when I said I was planning to make a bolognese, he offered to provide the pasta.

I’m officially on break from school and loving it.  No papers to write, no projects to complete, no academic reading to do.  Rather, I’m spending my days reading books I want to read (i.e., The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter), writing letters, watching movies, and spending quality time in the kitchen.  That quality time includes laborious dishes like bolognese, but I don’t mind one bit.  Something wonderful happens when a pot of bolognese is allowed to simmer for many hours; deep, silky flavors develop and the entire house benefits from the lazy cooking process.

While the sauce was bubbling away, I took the opportunity to bake a batch of cookies.  Why not, right?  These chocolate crackle cookies were so simple to put together and, after chilling in the fridge for a bit, baked off in a short 11 minutes.  There seems to be an inordinate amount of sugar in these cookies, but for whatever reason, I didn’t find them to be overly-sweet.  I thought they were a nice blend of cookie and brownie in their texture and the contrast in color was beautiful.

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The next time you want to make cookies, try these out.  They’re easy and impressive-looking.  They remind me of a snowy night and frankly, these would be perfect to eat while cuddled up in front of a roaring fire.  And I don’t know about you, but I love a chocolate dessert after a hearty meat sauce and pasta dinner.

Chocolate Crackle Cookies

Adapted from Chow

Ingredients:

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1/4 canola oil

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 cups granulated sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

4 eggs

1/2 – 1 cup powdered sugar, for rolling

Method:

Melt chocolate and oil in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally until chocolate has melted and mixture is smooth and shiny.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine the sugar and the oil-chocolate mixture.  Set mixer to medium speed and mix until combined (about 2 minutes).  Stop the mixer and scrape down sides of bowl with spatula.  Return mixer to medium speed and add the vanilla and eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next.

Stop mixer and scrape down sides of bowl.  On low speed, add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated, stopping once to scrape down sides of bowl.  This batter is similar to cake batter in that it’s kind of runny.  Don’t fret; it will firm up in the fridge.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 1/2 – 3 hours (or overnight).

When dough is firm, preheat oven to 350ºF.  Line two baking sheets with baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.

Place the powdered sugar in a shallow bowl.  Using a 1-tablespoon measure or small ice cream scoop, roll dough into 1-inch balls, drop them in the sugar, and roll around until they are completely covered.  Shake off excess and place on baking sheet.  You should be able to fit about 15 balls per sheet.  Refrigerate excess dough.

(The original recipe called for baking the two sheet simultaneously, but I don’t prefer to do that.)  Bake each sheet of cookies for 10-12 minutes, or when the middle of the cookies still look a little soft.  Transfer cookies to wire cooling rack and cool completely.  Be sure to let the baking sheets cool completely before repeating with the remaining dough.

Makes about 40 cookies.  Store cookies in airtight container for up to 4 days, if they last that long.  Alternatively, you can shape remaining dough into balls, place on cookie sheet, and freeze until balls are totally frozen, then transfer to airtight container or freezer bag for baking later.  If doing this, remove from freezer and allow to thaw for about 30 minutes, then roll in powdered sugar and bake as directed.


This is Thirty-Four

Yesterday was my 34th birthday.  I received a card from my husband which revealed to me that 34 years is 12,419 days.  So often we only think about birthdays in the context of years.  What did we accomplish in that year?  Are we better or worse off than the year prior?  Did we live up to our expectations or fall short of our destination?  But his card got me thinking in terms of days.  To me, days are much more manageable than years; I can better handle the expectations of a given day rather than the enormity of an entire year.  I can enjoy my small successes, ponder my missteps, and consider that if I am so lucky to get another day, how might I improve?  How might I make the day of another person better?  Or sometimes, I think about spending the following day simply enjoying the gift of being alive.

Are we too hard on ourselves?  Do we forget that our days are limited?  I think sometimes the answer is ‘yes.’  Perhaps we take for granted that another year will pass, we’ll have another birthday, and life will go on.  I’m not trying to be a downer here – my point is to be grateful for each individual day we are allowed, and to spend those days doing for others and doing for ourselves.  I don’t “live each day as though it’s my last,” but instead, I try to just be the most authentic “me” on that particular day.

I spent my 34th birthday being grateful for my husband, my family, and my lovely friends.  I spent it feeling proud of how far I’ve come in accomplishing my personal goals.  I spent it reflecting on the mistakes I’ve made, knowing I’ll make more, and I’m okay with that.  I spent it eating wonderful food with my dear husband in this great city I call home.

I thought about 12,419 days.  Sunrises and sunsets, the change of the seasons, miles traveled, apartments and houses, parties, classes, books read, walks taken, hugs given, tears shed.  I am so, so grateful for all the days.  Thanks to those of you who read this blog.  No recipe today, just reflection and gratitude.

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Sweet honey cornbread and black coffee for my birthday breakfast.

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The most gorgeous bouquet of flowers given to me by my husband.

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Lunch with the best guy.

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Celebrating 12,419 days.


The Wine List (Thanksgiving Edition Part 2)

Thanksgiving has to be one of my most favorite holidays.  Even though it was a week ago, I’m still dreaming of the sausage stuffing made by my friend, Holly.  The delicious smell of roasted fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts with garlic and rosemary still lingers in my kitchen.  The turkey…oh, the turkey!  Pieced out and slow-roasted to a golden brown – pure heaven!  We also enjoyed a boozy version of cranberry relish spiked with vodka and Grand Mariner, and a lovely kale caesar salad that has become a specialty of my friend, Pat.

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The table was set with my great grandmother’s china.

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Golden and delicious dinner rolls, made by yours truly.

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The turkey, pieced out and ready for roasting.  I kept it simple with olive oil, lots of kosher salt and black pepper.  

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Apple pie in lieu of pumpkin and I’m fine with that.

We took the advice of my friend, Alex Adkins when it came to the wine.  You might remember him from my previous post regarding pairing wines with Thanksgiving dinner.  Here they are in the order in which we sampled them – each are distributed by Quail, and can be found in local retail outlets.

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2012 Cave de Cleebourg Gewurztraminer, Alsace, France (~$16)

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2012 Il Cuore ‘The Heart’ Chardonnay, Mendocino County, USA (~$15)

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2011 Dupeuble Beaujolais, imported by Kermit Lynch (~$15)

Alex could not have been more right in his pairing suggestions!  We did, in fact, begin with a bottle of Prosecco; it paired wonderfully with the chicken liver mousse, as well as the caramelized onion and shallot dip I prepared for pre-dinner snacking.  We went ahead and tried a Gewürztraminer with the apps as well, and boy howdy! was it delicious!  It was crisp and bright, slightly sweet, and even a little bit effervescent, if I might say.  It cut the fat of the mousse and the dip in a remarkable way, and didn’t leave a cloying sweetness behind in its wake.  We thought it transitioned well from our bit of bubbly Prosecco.

For dinner we tried a Chardonnay, as well as the Beaujolais, and found that they were both excellent partners to the veggies and proteins on our plates.  My husband described the Chardonnay as having a “hi-hat crispness” and I felt it was bright and sharp in the most gentle way possible.  It was buttery, but not heavy, with just the right amount of acid to counter the turkey and gravy.

The Beaujolais had to be my favorite of the wines, but that might be because I enjoy red wine during the cold weather months.  This particular Beaujolais comes to us via Kermit Lynch, one of the preeminent wine gurus/importers of our time.  It is a lush, fruity wine, that was neither too light, nor too heavy to pair with the turkey, roasted potatoes, and the delightful sausage stuffing crowding our dinner plates.

Special thanks again to Alex for suggesting wine pairings for our Thanksgiving dinner.  I hope all of you had a lovely holiday spent with friends and family…stuffing yourself and being thankful.

Alex will return in future posts, so if you have any wine-related questions, be sure to ask them here and together, he and I will address your inquiries!


The Wine List: Thanksgiving Edition

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I’m a list-maker.  Phew, I said it.  It’s out there.  I feel so much better now.  Yes, I make lists.  I come from a long line of list-makers.  My mother makes lists, my grandmother makes lists, my aunts make them…you get it.  Lists are in our blood.  Before I knew it, I was addicted to the satisfaction I got from crossing a big, fat line through each item on the list.  Each line meant a tiny victory for me.  Some lists are simple and fun, like what is needed at the grocery store.  Other lists, however, might as well be Mount Everest: the endless list of books I want to read, places I want to travel, home improvement projects, general life goals.  You know, lists that remind me of what little progress I’ve made.  Lists that mock me and, in turn, get moved from the top of the stack to the back of a drawer.

If you’re at all like me, you have several lists going at once.  At the moment I have a list of all the projects and papers (and their due dates) I’m working on for this semester.  Because we’re closing in on the end, the majority of that list is crossed off, and I’d be lying if I don’t stare at it and think to myself, “You’re awesome, Sara.  Look at all those big, fat lines.  You’re the LIST MASTER!”  Okay, that last part might be an exaggeration, but nonetheless, seeing the completed list makes me feel great.  Until I look at the list sitting next to it…staring at me…frightening me…intimidating me with one simple word: THANKSGIVING.

Yes, we are hosting Thanksgiving at our home this year.  Last year I cooked for just Scott and myself (and the dogs – I mean, who are we kidding, right?).  But this year, we’re having our dear friends, Pat and Holly, over to eat with us.  The four of us try to get together at least once a week for dinner, cards, or to watch a television show, but we’re always invading their home.  This time, I wanted to have them over to our house.  But here’s where my lists are getting the better of me…

“Finish the dining room”

For whatever reason, I decided to work on the dining room this weekend.  By “work on” I mean I used an electric sander for the first time, created an unreasonable amount of dust, and then (also for the first time) skim-coated the lower third of our dining room walls in preparation for painting.  “But why, Sara?  Why would you do that when Thanksgiving is less than four days away?”

I did it because it was on the list, that’s why.

“It’s okay,” I tell myself.  “Our friends won’t mind that they have to sit in a partially-finished dining room.  As long as it’s dust-free and there is a table set with food and wine, they’re good.”

The wine.  I hadn’t even thought about the wine.  That is where my friend Alex Adkins comes in.  Alex knows his wine.  He’s been in the hospitality business for quite some time and his cheeky, laid back attitude makes wine seem approachable.  He knows what he’s talking about, and also knows that many others are lost in the woods when it comes to picking a good bottle of wine.  I sent him a list of the menu items my friends and I are preparing and he was kind enough to give me some tips and suggestions when it comes to pairing styles of wine with the foods of Thanksgiving.  Oh, and this year, we’re doing apple pie rather than pumpkin.  The horror!!

Alex replied:

“Thanksgiving is almost always a challenge to match.  Most people are happy to drink what they like because the diversity of styles and sweetness of the food on the plate at any one time wreak havoc of the best laid plans.

To start: a light, refreshing sparkler is nice.  Prosecco (from Italy) and Cava (from Spain) are mood lifters.  Who isn’t brightened by the effervescence?  Unless one isn’t ticklish I guess.  Make sure that they are dry and save any sweeter sparklers for dessert.  Too much sugar too soon on the palette can cause fatigue.  As for reds, a lower alcohol wine such as Beaujolais, Villages or a young Cru, is a great choice.  The French drink these a lunch as a matter of national pride.  Light ales/lagers would work too, especially if the snacks are toward the salty side.

For the main event: Whites – Chardonnay (yes, I said it!), Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.  In each case, wines with a little age help to match the texture of the food.  Chards with oak-aging will stand up to the richness and butteriness of the spuds and gravy.  Who doesn’t douse their plate with a boatload of gravy?  A drier Riesling Spatlese should also match the texture of most of the food, especially the turkey itself.  Look for examples from North America or Australia.  As for the Gewürztraminer , find an Alsatian.  Period.

Beaujolais could certainly continue into dinner, especially if food is served earlier in the afternoon.  Too much alcohol leads to afternoon napping, great at your parent’s house, but who wants to be the guy in the corner not holding up his end at Pictionary?  Used to be me, until I discovered Beaujolais!

Pinot Noir is a player here, especially from California or Oregon.  As long as the food isn’t overly spiced. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Zinfandel, red that is.  California Zins that are fruity, with hints of spice are often recommended because they match so many different notes in a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  Sonoma Zins probably match better than Lodi Zins.  I would serve this with an evening meal due to the much higher alcohol content.  Some Zinfandels can approach 16% alcohol. 

For dessert:  A sweet sparkling wine, such as Moscato, could work well with the apple pie, as might a tawny port or madeira.  Remember that coffee and wine don’t match, though.  So any guests who request both should be asked to stand outside for a few minutes to rethink her/his position on that.”

Many thanks to Alex and his thorough breakdown of Thanksgiving wine styles!  Now that I know what to pair, I can happily cross that off my list.  I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving spent with those you love.  Eat, drink, and be thankful for all the things that make life so great.  And don’t worry so much about your lists…they’ll still be there when the dust settles.


Roast Chicken (Again, Because Why Not?)

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Guys, for the last five weeks I have been involved in a practicum experience as part of my degree; I have been working with a wonderful English teacher and her 8th graders every morning and Friday was my last day.  I absolutely loved my experience and the conclusion was bittersweet.  I was sad to say goodbye to the students I worked with, but I was happy to be able to get back in the kitchen and start blogging again.

As you all know, I love roast chicken.  I posted about it a couple of years ago, but I wanted to revisit it.  This time, I chose to keep it even simpler; no veggies, no herbs, no roasting pan, no nonsense.  Just a chicken, some kosher salt and black pepper, and a skillet.

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We’re in the midst of a lovely fall here in Omaha.  The air is crisp, the leaves are slowly changing, and I’ve pulled out all my sweaters from storage.  This is my favorite season, so it only seems fitting to pair my favorite season with one of my favorite dishes.  And besides, I love to make my own chicken stock, so the more roast chickens, the merrier, right??

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There are a few pieces of advice I want to pass along when planning to roast a chicken.  The first would be to purchase the best quality chicken you can.  Since we’re not dealing with a ton of herbs and spices here, we need to rely on the quality of the chicken.  If you have a higher-end market in your area, go there.  If they sell organic chickens, buy one.  You’ll pay more than your average grocery store, but it’ll be worth it.  And think of how wonderful that homemade stock is going to taste, as well!

Secondly, a hot oven is your friend.  Crank that puppy up, but keep an eye on your bird! A hot oven will ensure a crispy skin and who doesn’t love that?

And finally, let your chicken rest at least 10 -15 minutes before you even think of carving into it.  Resting allows for the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, which will result in a moist and flavorful bite!

Roast Chicken (adapted via Thomas Keller)

4- 4 1/2 pound organic chicken

kosher salt

freshly cracked black pepper

 

Pre heat oven to 475ºF.

Place the chicken on a cutting board or plate and, using paper towels, pat dry the inside and outside of the bird.

Make sure it is thoroughly dried, as this will help to ensure a crispy skin.

Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the chicken. If you don’t know how to truss, simply tie the legs together with some kitchen twine. Make sure to tuck the wings behind the chicken.

This next step I like to do over the kitchen sink:

Heavily salt the outside of the chicken. Don’t be shy; make it rain on that bird. The salt will give the chicken a lovely flavor, color, and also allow for the skin to take on a crispy texture.

Grind some black pepper on the outside of the chicken and then place it in a 10-inch skillet.

Roast at 475ºF for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 450ºF and continue to roast until skin is golden brown and juices run clear, another 35-40 minutes. An instant-read thermometer placed in the thigh should register 160ºF.

Remove from oven and allow to rest, loosely tented with foil, for 10-15 minutes.

I like to serve this with roasted veggies, stovetop polenta, or a simple green salad.

 


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