Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What a Ham

I did it!  Christmas Eve dinner went very well.  Here's what I learned.

1.  I like ham, when prepared with care.
2.  It may appear fancy and difficult but this was one of the easiest dishes I have ever prepared.  The most difficult thing was dropping whatever else I was working on to reapply glaze every twenty minutes and finding counter space to do so in a busy kitchen. Totally worth it.
3.  Keeping the sides simple yet tasty, made the whole dinner come together without stress.
4.  Having some family on hand to pull everything together made the whole meal even better.
5.  A ten pound ham feeds six people (and a lucky dog who got to the ham bone) several times over. We will be eating leftovers all week.

Have a great week. 

Using my trusty food processor grating blade to make the carrot relish. IT WAS AWESOME. 

After 90 minutes in the oven, it was time to begin glazing every 20 minutes for the next 90 minutes or so.

Shaking the brussel sprouts... a proven technique.

I'm smiling, but I'm thinking  THIS IS HEAVY!

green bean casserole! I did not do the homemade fried onions.  Those are French's. How Ironic!

Ryan intently making a mountain of mashed potatoes.
My sister and her awesome sweet potato pie!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The official Christmas Eve menu

Whew! It was quite a a process planning this dinner.  I came down with a cold, so my steam kind of ran out... so here is what I have. It's still going to be amazing, because it will be made with love.

The Glazed Ham with Roasted Apples and Carrot Relish (we didn't choose the cranberry glaze because it felt to Christmas-sy).
Green Bean Casserole and Roasted Brussel Sprouts a l'americaine.
Ryan's Mashed Potatoes
Homemade Rolls

 Photos to come. Merry Christmas everyone.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Fail: Made-from-scratch Almond Bark Pretzels

Last year we made almond bark pretzels. We used a big brick of Almond Bark which we purchased at the grocery store, melted it down, dunked the pretzels and covered them in Christmas sprinkles. And they were just like I remembered them all those Christmases growing up in Iowa. So good!

In Boston there are no packages of ready-to-go almond bark in the holiday section of the grocery store, so this year I thought I would see if I could make them from scratch!  I googled for almond bark made from scratch, but every recipe started with "melt down one package of white chocolate..." Didn't seem very made-from-scratchy... what I want to know is how to make the white chocolate in the first place. The other day on the phone you read the ingredients label on your package of almond bark: "sugar, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, whey powder, soy lecithin, artificial flavor." Needless to say, I don't have those ingredients on hand so that was out.

Eventually I found a candy recipe in an online forum for a "bark" used in covering almonds. It seems rational that almond bark pretzels could be covered in something originally intended for almonds, so I wrote it down with a few alterations.
So here is the recipe I used:

Homemade Almond Bark
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/8 teaspoon almond flavoring

In 2 quart heavy saucepan, combine sugar, milk, corn syrup, and salt. Cook, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Cook without stirring to soft ball stage.* Remove from heat and add butter, do not stir. Let cool until lukewarm, then add almond flavoring. Beat until mixture thickens and is creamy. Keep mixture warm over a double boiler as you dunk half of the pretzels, letting them cool on waxed or parchment paper.

*I had no idea what soft ball stage was and had to look it up online. I found it means cooking the sugar mixture to 235 degrees, but I didn't have a candy thermometer and my meat thermometer only went up to 190 degrees, so I just guessed. Oops!

So, this whole process was a little tricky, I think I may have heated it over the recommended temp, and it was difficult to manage the double boiler and keep the bark from getting to hard before I had dipped all the pretzels. I also didn't completely cover them because the bark was **so** sweet it only needed a very little bit.

The end result was still pretty sweet, the bark dried a bit chalky, and the taste just wasn't quite right. I guess I'm not a candy maker! It looked okay though.

I consider this a fail because it was definitely not better than the stuff you buy in the package. But, there must be a superior almond bark made-from-scratch recipe out there somewhere! They had to come from somewhere. I am asking anyone with a pre-1970 midwest church cookbook to check for a homemade almond bark recipe. Maybe together we can find something better!

On a different note, look at this adorable cookbook my friend made for Christmas! She printed it with blurb. Its paperback and so cute. It could be our first go at a printed book?

Good luck with your Christmas Eve cooking!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Planning A Christmas Meu

There's a first time for everything. And it has been decided, not a moment too soon, that Ryan and I are cooking Christmas Eve lunch for  5-6 people.  Now I'm in full planning mode, going back through those December food magazines. 

Meat.  I am going to cook a meat main course.  I don't cook very much meat, as you have seen by my weekly menus.  But since I am cooking for others in the family, I am going to go for it.  I began researching and found that Christmas is the time of year when most people make ham (I guess I didn't know this because either my family made turkey or if we had ham, I didn't eat it much).  Even though I don't think I like ham I am going to give it a try. I have found in recipes here and there hat the fun and flavor with the ham dinner is all about the glaze.  So, I am going to give ham a try and make a kick-ass flavorful glaze.

Shopping for the ham was difficult though educational (and if you know me personally, use your imagination: it was totally comical).
So many options:  spiral spiced? Would I want something pre-sliced? Spiral what?  Isn't slicing it part of the fun of the presentation? Wouldn't that make the ham dry?
Cured/Uncured? Uhhhh.. I guessed cured because curing meat is beyond the skill set I wish to acquire in less than a week.
Bone-in or boneless? I chose bone-in because I think it will lead to a juicier ham.
Shank or butt? Shank. Or. Butt.  That question led me to have a funny conversation with a meat department employee. I needed to what the heck each one meant.  He told me that the shank included some of the leg whereas the butt had less bone and was the most popular.  If you were wondering, later research informed me that the butt was not literally the hog's butt, but the butt end of the leg.
Some hams had been pre-glazed (what fun is that?). Some contained packets of glaze (no.) So, the winner is... 

A ten pound, "traditional" bone-in hickory smoked ham. 

 For the glaze: I've got it narrowed down to four.  Help me choose!
glazed ham with roasted apples and carrot relish
whole grain mustard and apricot glaze
cranberry glaze/maple syrup, orange. pecans (found at same link)

More research will be necessary for the ham cooking and carving, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here.
Here is an outtake from the ham's photo shoot.

Now, on to where I am comfortable... delicious vegetable sides.
I might take it a little on the simple side as the ham is going to be a big adventure, plus I still have to save my cooking stamina since I am bringing a veggie dish to another Christmas meal on Sunday (some kind of vegetable casserole/tart/gratin... though ask me again later this week I may end up bringing something less ambitious).  But who says simple means boring?  Not I!

Saturday's sides will most likely include:
mashed potatoes made by my husband. He is a mashed potato rock star. milk, butter, salt and pepper and he does it perfectly every time.
real green bean casserole from  my darling kelsy at a l'americaine
roasted brussel sprouts with garlic OR roasted squash

And we'll revisit those delicious Thanksgiving rolls and garlic butter (maybe I'll venture into honey butter too...).  And I should probably throw in a salad. My sister is bringing desert!  Whew!!!

I'm overwhelmed and excited and so happy to be done with the fall semester of grad school so I can study my cookbooks! Hooray!

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weekly Menu December 19-23

With Christmas looming and lots of last minute preparations taking place, dinners this week have a common thread.  Simple dishes I can make without much recipe consultation.

But first, a quick re-cap of last week's menu:

slow cooker sweet potato and lentil soup: did not live up to my expectations, the picture looked more delicious than it was. With a lot of good ingredients, this is a recipe that could use some tinkering... 
black bean burritos with salad:  This was a winner.  See my previous post about how great it was.
Bombay sloppy joes: hits the spot every time. Try this, it calls for turkey instead of beef (which you could easily swap, or use lentils!) and you can adjust the spices for more or less heat!
Pasta with arugula/spinach, white beans and walnuts: I didn't make it... so it's rolling over to this week's menu.
spicy turkey and bacon stirfry also from Everyday Food December '11: this was not good. I thought it was kind of boring and weird.  I may have had some recipe mishaps, I forgot halfway through that I was making a half portion and made a whole portion of sauce which made it way too salty. But, overall, the photo was deceivingly delicious the dish was not.
carrot ginger soup:  Again, see my previous post. I hope to try this again next week with coconut milk.

On to this week:
roasted butternut squash and quinoa with salad
This is easy to put together, delicious and filling. I can multi-task while the squash is roasting.

Pasta with arugula/spinach, white beans and walnuts 
We still have quite a bit of spinach!

veggie lasagna
I am planing for leftovers!

frittata with potatoes and leeks and rosemary
Have you made a frittata yet?

maybe carrot and ginger soup attempt #2
we'll see if I get to this

Whew! It's going to be a bit hectic, between work and preparing for Christmas weekend.  But, more on that later.  Have a great week!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Response to Cook Report Carrot Soup

Chris is out with his coworkers this evening so I'm cooking for one tonight. Your post from yesterday had me thinking of carrot ginger soup. I worked late today and just didn't have it in me to spend much time cooking, but I still needed a good, warm home cooked dish. So, here is what I did!

Quick & Easy Carrot Ginger Soup with Coconut

Combine in a small pot:

3 large carrots, roughly chopped (or 5 medium ones)
just enough water to cover carrots
1/2 tsp veg bouillon or half cube

Bring to a boil and simmer until carrots soften. 6-7 minutes.


a half can of coconut milk
1 inch roughly chopped ginger
spices to taste (I used cumin, coriander and turmeric)
salt & pepper

Blend it all together in the pot with the immersion blender and voila! A beautifully carroty orange and delicious soup. In about 10 minutes. Serves 2. Or just me if I'm really hungry.

About adding cream to soup: I do make a carrot and coriander soup which is just lots of carrots and broth with no cream, but for this one I find the coconut milk is just an awesome healthy food especially on these winter evenings. I don't really worry about the fat content, if I keep it in moderation. I put coconut milk in lots of things, and I actually think it makes my skin look better! More on that later :)

Allison, later this week I'm going to make that slow-cooker sweet potato and lentil soup you put on your weekly menu. Have you made it yet? Any tips?

Inspiration: Food Magazines

I thought you readers out there might be interested in some of the content that fuels my passion for food.  Here is a rundown of the food magazines I read most often and use for a lot of recipes, food information and inspiration.  Should this become a series on the blog? Would you like to know more...  (books, other food blogs, etc.?)

Martha Stewart's Everyday Food
This magazine is cute and portable and has nice food photography. I cook from it regularly.  Not every recipe is a winner but there are several that have made it into the book of recipes I keep (more on that later).  My favorite recipe yet being the Corn and Butternut Squash Chowder.
I have subscribed to this magazine for 3 or 4 years and like it so much that last year when I got a renewal notice, I sent a gift subscription to Cara for free.  It was really fun to chat about cooking the same recipes from the magazine and was a major path in starting Kitchen Table Friends!

Food Network Magazine
I have subscibed to this magazine since it began in 2008.  I liked it a lot when FN was one of the only stations my television picked up in NYC, but since my hours spent watching the FN have decreased, so has my enjoyment of the magazine. The recipes are fun and useful, but haven't integrated as easily into my daily routine... I actually cancelled my subscription because of my decreasing enjoyment of this one and admittedly, the magazine rack was just getting out of control...

Fine Cooking Magazine
This subscription came about from one of those school fundraisers from a family member.  Naturally I choose a food magazine.  This magazine just isn't on par with the others I like. The photography and the writing didn't get me excited about cooking.  I'm not going to renew. The recipes I tried were ok, but nothing really struck my fancy except for that rockin' butternut squash lasagna.

Bon Appetit
I just got my first and second issue this month.  The graphic design and photography is very hip and classy.  I am looking forward to spending more time reading and cooking from this magazine. A ten page spread focus on vegetable centric recipes?! Hooray! Isn't it the food magazine?

I buy Real Simple every now and then, and they have great reliable recipes like the ravioli with apples and walnuts!  

Check out this blog The Bitten Word about two avid food mag readers who started a new year's resolution in 2008 to start putting their food magazines to use!

Do you subscribe to any food magazines ?  What are your favorites?

Yours truly,

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cooking Report: What I Made Yesterday

I made the carrot ginger soup yesterday, creating my recipe from others I found online.  Here's what I used....

1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced with the slicing tool on my food processor (!!!).
one onion, minced.
2 inch piece of ginger, minced.
2 cloves garlic, minced.
2 cups vegetable broth.
2 cups water.
1/4 teaspoon cayenne.
2 teaspoons cumin.
1/2 teaspoon curry powder.
salt and pepper.
olive oil.

heat olive oil in a large pot on medium heat.
put the onions and garlic in the large pot and cook for about 5 minutes.
add carrots, ginger, spices.  cook for about 5 minutes.
add liquid and cook for 30 minutes. leave uncovered if you desire soup to be thicker, or leave lid on to preserve the liquid. I did about half covered, half uncovered, but found the soup to be a little too watery so next time, I'll leave the lid off most of the time for a thicker consistency.
puree soup with immersion blender (turn off the heat first, for safety!).

I liked my soup,  but there was something left to be desired.  Maybe it was the omission of dairy... many recipes I looked at used heavy cream or coconut milk, which I didn't have or want to use this time around to create a more healthy soup.  Due to the large amount of ginger, it was a little too spicy and not carrot-y enough. I am going to try again.  Suggestions encouraged!!!

I also wanted to share how I made the black bean burritos... 

1 cup brown rice.
1 can black beans, rinsed.
1/2 green pepper, chopped.
1 green onion, chopped.
1/4 -1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes with green chiles.
homemade taco seasoning.         ----------->
olive oil.
salt and pepper.
shredded cheddar cheese.
whole wheat tortilla.

cook rice, using 1 1/2 to 1 water to rice ratio.
prep other ingredients and mix homemade taco seasoning.
when rice is almost finished cooking (approximately 15-20 minutes in) start heating olive oil in a medium pan.  add green peppers and green onion.  season with salt and pepper.
when veggies start to soften, add beans, tomatoes and 1-2 teaspoons of the taco seasoning. 
Mash some of the black beans with the back of a spoon.  Mix and keep on low.
Stir 1 teaspoon taco seasoning into the rice.  When it is done, add rice to bean mixture. Mix it together and if you want a little more liquid, add more diced tomatoes.

I topped my bean and rice mixture with a little bit of cilantro, salsa and shredded cheese and rolled it up in the tortilla.  My husband created a salad with spinach, green onions, shredded mozzarella (resourcefully from a piece of string cheese), and topped it with a little lime juice and the salsa. 

This hit the spot. Healthy and delicious!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Weekly Menu: Finals Week! And Green Bean Update

Here we are again, another Monday weekly menu post.  Thanks to all who have commented either here in person or otherwise. It's nice to know that you are reading our little blog.  We sure enjoy sharing the kitchen table with you.

This week's menu is a little more extensive.  I have some lunches planned because I'll be around the house more, studying and writing final exams (I'm a grad student!).

But first let's revisit the green bean hints I asked about...   I went the rosemary and garlic route.  I had bought some rosemary for that frittata (rosemary, garlic, potatoes, spinach!!!) and had plenty left over.  I love the smell of fresh rosemary!  I steamed the beans for about 5 minutes then threw a couple minced garlic cloves and rosemary in a pan with olive oil. Next went in the green beans for a few minutes. Delicious and easy.

Weekly Menu, December 12-18

slow cooker sweet potato and lentil soup  from Food Network Mag Dec. '11
with homemade flatbread or naan

black bean burritos with salad
I usually just wing this one, adding homemade seasoning to black beans and whatever veggies I have around. They may not actually be burritos proper, but that's what I call them.

Bombay sloppy joes ... another good one from Food Network Magazine I have made over and over again, this one is good enough to be in "the book"( more on that later!)
 with Indian spiced rice with veggies

Pasta with arugula/spinach, white beans and walnuts from Everyday Food June '09  (spinach was on sale in a giant container and will sub just fine, though will have to try this in the summer with arugula!)
with frozen peas

spicy turkey and bacon stirfry also from Everyday Food December '11

carrot ginger soup ... most recipes online have been similar and pretty straightforward. I'm most likely going to do a non-dairy one and am looking forward to experimenting with this in between studying.

roasted butternut squash with  quinoa

Here is a photo of the menu board I keep on my fridge with a handy little magnetic file holder to hold recipes and cooking magazines.  It's not very fancy but does the job.  

Oh, and yes, that is an Ira Glass finger puppet. :)

Have a great week!

Yours truly,

My Nordic Chicken Soup w/ Indian Spice Tradition

I like to make this soup every December, before Christmas. Its spicy and warming, and reminds me of my visit to Norway in December 2007. While there I met a young Scandinavian woman named Inger-Anne. I have two memories of her: we sang karaoke together at an old sailor bar in Porsgrunn, and she made me this delicious soup. Its one of my favorite recipes.

This afternoon Chris roasted and de-boned a chicken, and made up a delicious stock with the remnants. (He told me how he did it, but I think that's enough material for a whole other post!) We used the stock as the base for this soup. We were out of curry powder so we used green curry paste instead. The result was delicious, and the taste transported me back to those cold, wintry days with the warm and welcoming Norwegians.

Inger-Anne's Indian Corn Soup with Chicken

1 large white onion
1 large leek
1 red bell pepper
5 cups chicken stock
16 oz frozen corn
2-3 cups cooked chicken (2 breasts or half of a whole chicken)
2 tsp curry
2 tsp Garam Masala
1 cup cream
Kittaroo was curious.
salt & pepper to taste

Rinse, cut and fry the vegetables (except corn). Add curry and Garam Masala. Add chicken stock and cream and bring to a boil. Add the chicken (cooked). Simmer for 5 minutes. Add corn and bring back to a boil for a few minutes. Add salt, pepper, additional curry and Garam Masala to taste.

Vegetarians sub roasted seitan for the chicken and use veggie stock. Try coconut milk instead of cream!

Allison, I shared this recipe with you in the girls' cookbook. I know you've made it before. Now you know where it came from! I hope you enjoy some warm and cozy meals in your kitchen this week. Wish I could be there.



Monday, December 5, 2011

Delicious Spaghetti Dinner

Sometimes I just go into the kitchen and wing it.  Tonight I made the spaghetti with vegetables and pesto on my list.  Here's how it went down.

I started with making 1/3 batch of pesto from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (another one of my favorite go-to books).  Substituting one teaspoon of regular olive oil for some fancy basil olive oil I recently picked up.

Next, I sauteed one clove of garlic in a big pan with some more olive oil.  Then added half a zucchini, diced, and let it cook for a few minutes.  I added one can of diced tomatoes and let that simmer while the whole wheat spaghetti boiled on the stove.  When the pasta was done cooking, I added it to the pan with the tomatoes and zucchini then stirred in all the pesto.  This was a super flavorful, very simple to prepare dish.  Make it right away!

To recap:
1/3 batch homemade pesto (1 cup basil = approx 1/3 cup pesto)
1/2 box whole wheat spaghetti
olive oil
1/2 zucchini
1 can diced tomatoes

There was enough for two adult servings and one leftover for lunch (I already claimed it as mine!). 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Weekly Menu: The first week of December!

This week we have a good combination of new recipes and standard foods that I don't really need a recipe to make.  December means a lot more use of the oven.

vegetable bean soup (December Everyday Food) with spinach salad
slow cooker garlic chicken with cous cous (December Everyday Food)
broiled salmon and green beans
spaghetti and veggies (zucchini, corn and diced tomatoes) and pesto with spinach salad
fritatta: potatoes, spinach, tomatoes with black beans

Frittatas are one of my favorite go-to dishes when I need to round out a menu. Also good for using up any extra vegetables we might have around. They're simple, quick and as far as I'm concerned, anything can go in them.

I would love a suggestion from a reader (is anyone out there?) for something to jazz up the green beans side with the salmon...  while I love them with a little butter, black pepper and salt, but sometimes you just need to shake things up.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Real Deal Hot Cocoa

Its mid-afternoon, its December, I still have loads of work to do and I need a little pick me up. Sometimes I'll make a cup of tea, but as its nearing holiday time I thought today I would indulge a little. I have this simple, delicious and nearly guilt-free recipe for hot chocolate, courtesy of my yoga & ayurveda teacher. Its my go-to when I still have work to do but would rather be baking cookies. And eating them. And then taking a nap. With my cat.

The Real Deal Hot Cocoa

1 cup milk of choice (cow, rice, soy, almond)
3 heaping tbsp unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
sweetener to taste (honey, agave, or real maple syrup)

Combine cocoa, milk and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk gently as the milk heats up, and just as it boils remove from heat. Have your mug ready with sweetener already in the bottom (I use 2 to 3 tbsp), pour the hot cocoa milk into the mug and stir. Sip slowly and enjoy! Sometimes I add a dash of cinnamon to make Mexican Hot Chocolate.

The unsweetened cocoa may taste fairly bitter at first, so feel free to add as much sweetener as you like! Overtime as you get used to the taste of the real cocoa, you'll probably find it just as enjoyable with less sweetener.