Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Flashback: Knitted Christmas Gifts

Christmas is soon upon us, which means...presents! (And baby Jesus). Every year I get the urge to knit something. Sometimes, the project turns out nice enough to give away and I have one gift idea taken care of.

Two years ago, I started learning how to knit sweaters. I still need more practice, but the first one didn't turn out bad at all. I gave the knitted vest to my mom.

Then I got bold and decided to tackle a sweater. With sleeves.

The knitting part actually went pretty quickly. What took me the longest were blocking and sewing. I have no patience for sewing but maybe one day I'll appreciate it more.

And it fits! I love it when things just work out. Not all my projects do. They're hidden in the closet.

This year I finally finished a cape I was knitting. Not quite good enough to be a present, but plenty nice for myself. 

I like seed stitch; it makes the fabric look more substantial.

In addition, I knitted Bill an afghan. He's pretty excited to have another afghan to go with the one his grandma gave him. His dream is to have an afghan for every room. Be careful what you wish for! ~.^

Did you make any holiday presents this year? If so, do share! Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Guest Blog: Holiday Treats!

Who doesn't look forward to those special holiday snacks?

Today, I'm here to present two delicious snacks---roasted chestnuts and peppermint white chocolate bark. Prepare to enter the food coma!
Roasted chestnuts

Everyone has heard the song about "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire". Well, if you're lacking a fire an oven works just fine. The only ingredient you will need for this one are some chestnuts.

Preheat the oven to 425 degF. Prepare the chestnuts by cutting through the skin of each nut with a paring knife. Cutting an X shape will aid in peeling later. If you skip this step, the steam may not be able to escape from the nuts.

Place nuts on a baking pan and place in the oven for 25 minutes. It's that easy

Remove from the oven, and eat while still hot. They become much harder to peel cold!

Peppermint White Chocolate Bark

For this recipe, all you will need are some candy canes and a bag of white chocolate chips (or whatever source of white chocolate you have)

First, add about a cup of water to a small pot and boil it, adding a bowl above it to create a double boiler.

Next---the fun part---smash some candy. Here, you can see me smashing candy canes (still in the wrapper) with a bottle of olive oil. Whatever's handy. 

When the water has come to a boil, add the white chocolate and melt it, stirring frequently: 

When fully melted, add some crushed peppermint. If you desire, you can add a dash of peppermint extract to the mix as well: 

After fully mixing the peppermint into the melted chocolate, spread out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. 

Garnish with sprinkles if you so desire.  

Cool in the refrigerator for 45 minutes, remove, and break apart into bite sized pieces. 

Enjoy! Hopefully you have fancy decorative bows for each bag of chocolate rather than a twist tie!  

Believe it or not, we're going to avoid eating all this white chocolate and give it away as a stocking stuffer. I'll miss you, white chocolate :(

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cranberry and Orange Swiss Roll

Finally, the dessert course! I was so anxious to make this dessert, and just ecstatic that it came out successfully. In Taiwan, Swiss rolls are a staple of bakeries, but I didn't know you can make it at home. Once I found this recipe, however, I realized how incredibly easy it is to make. (Thanks again Stephanie at Joy of Baking!) Plus, it looks so impressive when it's done!

The only thing I added was zest of an orange to the cake.

For the filling, I used 1/3 cups of canned cranberry sauce (half berry, half jelly), 1 cup of heavy cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. The cranberry orange flavor is a classic for the holidays. It can help put you in the mood if you're not feeling the holiday spirit!

The secret to making a successful Swiss roll or jelly roll, as I've learned, is to roll it up with a clean kitchen towel while it's still warm, and let it cool rolled up. That way when you roll it up with the filling, it won't crack. I love the neat textures my kitchen towel left on the cake.

For some reason we started talking about meat logs during dinner, and Bill ended up calling this cake a "sweet log." Enjoy this sweet log at room temperature or chilled. I personally like it straight from the fridge.

Give it a shot if you ever want to impress someone!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Acorn Squash and Leek Tart

Yesterday I mentioned the appetizers we had for dinner last weekend. Along with the pita chips and hummus, we also had some mulled wine to help us get into the holiday spirit. For the main course, we had an Acorn Squash and Leek Tart, adapted from the Squash and Gorgonzola Tart recipe from The Kitchen Bible.

Acorn Squash and Leek Tart
Makes 6 servings

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
8 tbsp chilled butter, diced
4 tbsp iced water
1 acorn squash, seeded
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large leeks, pale green and white parts only, thinly sliced
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
4 oz Gorgonzola
Salt & pepper

First roast the acorn squash. This can be prepared ahead of time. Set the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the acorn squash in half horizontally. Bake for 30 minutes. Chill for half an hour. Cut the squash into thick slices and peel them. I only used 4 slices in the tart.

Prepare the dough an hour ahead. Mix salt into the flour. Cut in the butter, until it resembles cornmeal. Add iced water. Pack into a disc and wrap with plastic. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Roll disc out on lightly floured surface, then transfer to a tart pan. I used a pie pan. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, and fill it with baking beans, or rice. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and bake for 10 more minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan on medium. Add the leeks and cook for 5 minutes.

Add to the prepared tart shell.

Spread the squash and Gorgonzola on top.

Mix together the eggs, egg yolk, heavy cream, Parmesan, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture in the tart.

Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Make sure to save room for dessert!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pita Bread, Pita Chips, and Feta Squares

Last weekend we had a few friends over, and boy did we have a fantastic time. Our guests brought home-brewed beer, great wine, and sparkling conversation. We made dinner. It's gonna take me a couple days to recount it. 

For appetizer, pita chips and hummus are always delicious and easy to make at home! I got both recipes from The Kitchen Bible. To make the hummus, process chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, salt, and paprika in a food processor until smooth. Voilà!

The pita bread is just as easy as the Naan. Mix together olive oil, water, yeast, salt, sugar, and flour. Knead for 5 minutes, and rise for an hour. Roll out 8 pitas and place them on 2 baking sheets. Proof for 20 minutes.

Bake for 10 minutes. 10 minutes!

I saved half as bread for those who prefer soft pita. And toasted the rest at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Drizzle with some love...I mean...EVOO
This is the first time I made these feta squares. They are tasty, especially as afternoon snacks with tea. But this recipe could be improved; it's a little dry as dinner appetizer. Next time I might add the cheese on top instead. It's got butter, olive oil, milk, flour, and feta. Topped with cayenne pepper and poppy seeds. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

In addition to food pictures, I must show you my blogging companion.

Rupert has something to say: "Stay tuned for main course and dessert!"

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Friday Flashback: Pre-Christmas Musk Ox Farm Visit

Back in Alaska, I had the opportunity to volunteer for the most amazing non-profit organization: The Musk Ox Farm of Palmer, Alaska. You can read all about them on their website. Alex Trebek is also a fan! He mentions this farm on Jeopardy from time to time. Bill and I both have "signed" certificates from Alex :)

A couple weeks ago, we got a Christmas card from them. It's so good to see some familiar faces still working there. 

When I first started volunteering, there were seven calves that year, all named after classic rock songs. One unfortunately had a birth defect. Every time "Tiny Dancer" plays on the radio, I tear up a little bit for the tiny musk ox we got to know.

At first, they were so skittish, huddling in the corner. 

That one in the back didn't want to miss anything

After a year of hand feeding, they were much more mild-mannered, and if you have food, they will come right up to you! One time one of the hand-fed yearlings tried to take my glove from me (and you need those gloves in the Alaskan winter!)

Impromptu visit before Christmas

If you have a chance to go to Alaska, you have to check this place out. We made wonderful friends there (human and musk ox), and I'm so happy to hear from them before Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas, who's excited?! I'm excited about an afghan I've almost finished knitting for Bill (don't worry, I've been knitting in plain sight). This is going to be a great Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Blue Cheese Stuffed Pork Chops

Have you ever been bored by pork chops? Try stuffing it with blue cheese! It's so delicious and it takes less than half an hour to make.This stuffing also contains apples and cabbage to bring out the sweetness. Any apple will do. As a shortcut, I used coleslaw mix instead of shredded cabbage.

Good with some apple juice!

Blue Cheese Stuffed Pork Chops
Makes 2 servings

2 pork chops
2 oz blue cheese
1/4 cup diced apple
1/4 cup diced onion
1 scallion, chopped
1/4 cup coleslaw mix
Salt & pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

Turn on the broiler. Trim the fat around the pork chops. Cut a slit in each pork chop. Mix the blue cheese, apple, onion, scallion, scallion, and cabbage. Stuff each pork chop with the mixture. Salt and pepper the pork chops generously. Drizzle a heavy pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Place the pork chops in the pan, then drizzle with the rest of the olive oil. Broil in oven for 5 minutes on each side.

Position the pork chops toward each other to prevent the stuffing from falling out

Serve with these biscuits and coleslaw, or potatoes and green beans. This meal is filling and delicious!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fried Chicken and Cajun Biscuits

It's time for some comfort food. I love fried chicken, but I always thought it was too hard to make at home. Then I found this recipe. It's amazing!

To go with the chicken, I made some biscuits based on a recipe guessed it....The Kitchen Bible. I added some Cajun seasoning to complement the fried chicken. 

Pull-apart Cajun Biscuits
Makes 16 biscuits

2 1/3 cups of flour
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp Cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp dried basil
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
dash of cloves
6 tbsp butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1 1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and seasoning. Cut butter into the flour mixture, until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Stir in the buttermilk to make a soft dough. Form biscuits with your hands, or use a spoon to drop biscuits into an unbuttered cake pan. Place each biscuit next to each other, barely touching. Bake for 18 minutes. 

I love pulling these apart! Serve warm with fried chicken and coleslaw for a comforting homemade dinner in less than thirty minutes. Beware of food coma!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chickpea and Mushroom Soup

Chickpea and Mushroom Soup
Makes 2 servings

1 tbsp olive oil
6 oz Portobello mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 slice of bacon
1 can (16 oz) chickpeas, drained
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp brandy
Salt & pepper
2 slices of Swiss cheese

Cut up Portobello mushrooms.

Heat olive oil in a frying pan on medium high. Saute mushrooms with garlic cloves for five minutes. In another pan, fry a slice of bacon until crispy. Add to food processor with chickpeas, parsley, shallots, garlic and mushrooms.

Process until smooth.

Add the mixture to a medium pot with chicken broth. Bring to a boil on medium heat, stir occasionally. Stir in the brandy. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowls, then add Swiss cheese while soup is still hot. Wait 5 minutes before serving.

This soup is full of flavor! Cut the bacon if you want a healthier version.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Pumpkin Pancakes

I've been wanting to try this recipe for the longest time. I hope it's not too late to write about a pumpkin recipe! She's not kidding when she said you've got to try them. They are delicious! 

I don't have pumpkin spice, but it's easy to make. Just follow these instructions. I love that there's cornmeal in these pancakes, but I think I'll lower the salt next time. Top  them with some cinnamon pecan butter and maple syrup. Mmm mmm.

To make the cinnamon pecan butter, whip 4 tablespoons of butter in a food processor with 1 tablespoon of chopped pecans and 1/4 tsp of cinnamon. The nuttiness is delightful. These yummy pancakes started the day off right.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Flashback: Snow!

It snowed yesterday! But it mostly melted overnight and iced over. Still, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a white Christmas. 

A quick look at our past years' albums reveals that we didn't cook very much the weeks leading up to Christmas. Instead, we did a lot of snow sports. Needless to say, we got a lot of snow in Alaska. So naturally we spent a lot of time in the snow. The first year Bill got his snowboard, he tried it out in our driveway. 

Thumbs up for not falling
Then he dragged me to the practice hill in Hatcher Pass. Dragged because I was terrified of going fast, but I didn't want my fears to get the best of me. I'm determined to improve, but I will to do it at my own pace, which is very very slowly.

Going so slow, it looks like I'm just standing there

After a couple seasons of learning, I still prefer going back-country snowboarding, despite the effort of walking up and the risk of avalanches. Why? Well, it's much nicer to fall on a bed of soft snow!

Hatcher Pass, Alaska

Actually in between snowboarding and cross-country skiing, we did learn how to make pizzas three years ago a few weeks before Christmas. We were so proud of ourselves. Even though it was misshapen, we devoured it with delight. Now we make pretty good looking (and tasty!) pizzas, but the first one was still special.

Mushroom and Spinach Pizza

Last year, we also visited our friends at the Musk Ox Farm a week before Christmas. Check back if you want to see pictures of some cute musk oxen!