Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mom's 60th Birthday Dessert Party

On a lovely August day, friends and family joined my mom in celebrating her 60th birthday. We decided to host a small dessert party (with big desserts!), and everyone showed up with amazing contributions. Here are a couple of mine:

I have been wanting to make truffles for some time, and what better flavor than hazelnut?! I used Ina Garten's recipe, which was good, but I felt like I couldn't taste all of the special ingredients (Frangelico, coffee...). All in all, though, truffles are surprisingly easy to make. Messy, but easy! My next truffles will be cayenne pepper-flavored ones!

I don't make dessert of any kind very often, and this Martha Stewart lime cookie recipe has been filed in my To-Cook folder (yes, I really have one, and it's very thick!) for about a year. The lime made them appropriately summery, although they weren't as light as I was expecting. I tried one tony piece and had an instant craving for about a gallon of milk! The beautiful Italian cookies are the creation of my friend, Jeff. His were much better!

Because this gathering involved last-minute planning, no invitations were mailed out. Over the past few months, I had thought about what the invitations to my mom's party would look like. Keeping in mind that my dad and I have called her "The Moose" or "Mamoose" for over 20 years, and that most people are aware of her nickname (which, for some reason, she embraced?!), I was going to go with the "moose" theme. I turned my idea, which uses Roman Numerals for the number "60," into little decals on display at the party.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Veggie Chili

I just did a search on my own blog (now that there are over 200 posts!) and am shocked to find that I never posted the veggie chili that I have come to love.

It's based upon a Rachael Ray recipe, Veg-Head Three-Bean Chili, which I've made a little quicker, easier and less expensive to make. (The ingredient lists on some of RR's recipes are so long! Her recipes always seem unnecessarily complicated — as do the titles of her recipes — and there is a price tag correlation to such long ingredients lists!)

So, here's what I do:

• olive oil
• onion
• green pepper (or red pepper - or both!)
• 1 jalapeno, diced (or not!)
• 4 cloves of garlic (or to your taste)
• 2 cans each, red and pink kidney beans (and maybe black beans, too)
• can of crushed tomatoes
• can of refried beans (preferably non-fat veggie beans)
• 1 TBS cumin
• 2 TBS chili powder

Makin' the Chili
Sautee the onions, peppers and garlic until they start to soften. Add the crushed tomatoes, beans (drained and rinsed!), cumin, chili powder, and salt to taste (about 1 tsp). Stir in the refried beans to thicken the sauce (they will stir in easy once they warm up in the pot), and cook for about 10 minutes to thicken. Serve with whatever fancy stuff you want: cheese, sour cream, chives...or not!

North Adams Farmers Market

It turns out that the closest local grocery store (which is very, very close) does not carry some fundamental items in their teensy produce aisle. I also just learned that it's the most expensive chain in the area.

So, I went on a grocery store adventure this morning to the next town over. As I was nearing the store, I caught sight of the farmers market — this was perfect, since most of my list involved produce! I have no idea what the cost of my produce would have been if I bought it at the grocery store, but it certainly would have been more than the $13 I spent for the following items: onions, potatoes, tomatoes, jalapenos, green peppers, leeks, zucchini, squash, and...these super cool burgundy beans!

The farmers market in my own town doesn't open until noon on Saturdays. Who wants to food shop in the middle of a Saturday? Aren't farmers early to rise?!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Curried Lentils

Alton Brown says that lentils are good for you, and darn it, I believe him.

This recipe is similar to one I made with chickpeas a while ago, but a little saucier. I chose to cut back the tomato sauce quite a bit, and it really came out good. I'm already looking forward to having it in my lunch box tomorrow!

Curried Lentils
(modified ever-so-slightly from the magazine's recipe)

* an onion
* a piece of ginger
* 2 cans of lentils
* tomato sauce
* 2 tsp curry powder
* 1 tsp garam masala
* pinch cayenne pepper
* a lime

Cook the onion and ginger in olive oil until the onion starts to brown, then add the spices for about a minute. Add the lentils and just enough tomato sauce to give them a good coating. Simmer for about 5 minutes and add the juice of 1/2 lime. Eat!

Peaches 'n Pork Kebabs

We were starving yesterday when we fired up the grill for these kebabs. The chimney starter for our charcoal grill never fails us, but man...hardwood charcoal takes a long time to be ready for the grill. So, by the time we ate these tasted extra good!

I modified a recipe from Everyday Food, alternating cubes of pork tenderloin with pieces of red onion and peaches. I gave the kebabs a brush of olive oil and a sprinkle of steak seasoning, and basted them as they cooked with a mix of apricot preserves, soy sauce and cayenne pepper. Everything came out great, but we're still struggling to gauge charcoal volume based upon whatever food we're attempting to cook. Learning...learning.

Oh, and I'm sorry I was so mean to Mark Phelps in my last post...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

SplinkDesign — Up 'n Running!

I am very excited to announce that my online portfolio is largely complete. Although it is my plan to design the website in the near future, the easiest way for me to post my work for now is in blog format. (Oh, the elusive web-design class!)

I have posted a good volume of work, spanning from student projects to current ones, and will continue to keep it updated. The portfolio pieces are sortable by project type, type of software used, and workplace. As of this morning, I still need to add my favorite portolfio pieces — my custom invitations! I'll get them posted soon. Feel free to leave (nice) comments!

You can access the blog by following my nickname-inspired URL:

Beijing 2005

During my 2005 trip to Beijing, we were able to peer over a wall near Tienanmen Square to catch a glimpse at the construction of buildings for the 2008 Olympics. It's difficult to imagine that part of the city being the focus of positive international attention, particularly since not even 20 years have passed since the massacre that took place there. (For some context, a member of the Chinese military tried to knock the camera from my hand after I took the photo below.) Perhaps in 2021, New York will have healed enough to host the Olympic games in lower Manhattan. Of course, they, too, would have to oust a couple million people from their urban dwellings to make room for gigantic complexes that will too soon be empty.

I had the opportunity to visit the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona in 1996 — only 4 years after they hosted the games — and it was a ghost town. Quiet, creepy and sunny. My only hope for the 2008 Olympics is that the future utilization of these buildings was decided upon and considered throughout their design and construction.

That's right, I don't give a crap about Michael Phelps. I didn't know who he was a week ago (I don't think I'm alone here), and although I am in awe of his ability, NBC has done too fantastic a job of overpromoting the image of him...and his mother. I watched (part of) the opening ceremonies. There are approximately 10,500 athletes competing in these games. Why do I keep seeing the same 5? I find NBC's coverage to feel constantly contrived and difficult to watch.

Um, anyway... Traveling to Japan and China was a lifelong goal for me. As I have not previously posted the photos from my trip on my blog, I thought that this was an appropriate time. Please click here to see select photos from my trip.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tex-Mex Chicken and Beans

I suppose that one of the benefits of cooking frequently (and perusing cooking magazines frequently, as well) is a growing ability to look at a recipe and know what it's going to taste like. It's sort of like looking at a piece of music and being able to recognize the tune by sight alone.

I came across this recipe in Everyday Food, and thought it looked good, nutritious, and incredibly easy. It was!

I prepped everything the night before. In the morning, I piled everything in the slow cooker and set it on "high" for 8 hours. It was ready and waiting for me when I came home. We ate this stew-like meal straight up (with a little sour cream), but it would be great on a sandwich or in tacos. Here's what's in it (as I stored it the night before):

Bowl 1:
* 1 cup of dried pinto beans, rinsed
* 11 oz of fresh salsa (I used hot salsa - it!)
* 2 TBS canned chipotle chilis in adobo sauce (more heat!)
* 2 TBS flour
* 1 cup water

Bowl 2:
* a medium red onion, chopped
* a red bell pepper, chopped

In the morning:
Put the contents of Bowl 1 in the crockpot. Place 1-2 lbs of boneless chicken thighs on top, and season with salt and pepper. Dump Bowl 2 on top of that. Cook on 'low' for 8 hours, shred the chicken with a couple of forks, and serve with sour cream and cilantro. (Yes, I accidentally set mine on 'high' with no detrimental effects!)

I should say, too, that I faithfully avoid dark meat, and nothing disappoints me more than when I am covertly served dark meat in a restaurant (especially when hidden in a nice Chinese-food batter!). Using the thighs is absolutely the way to go in this recipe — they stay moist in the slow cooker, and they had a wonderful flavor.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sesame Chicken with Brown Rice

After my first day of work (for which I packed a vegetarian lunch) I was craving protein for dinner. I threw aside our plans to have penne (whole wheat, of course) and jarred Ragu (I'm not that much of a food snob!) in order to try another recipe from Cooking Light.

As an aside, I have to get some of the boil-in-bag quickie brown rice. Otherwise, it takes so long to cook — especially on a weeknight. That shall be my grocery goal this weekend!

The recipe (which I shall not post here) called for tossing the cut chicken in an egg and corn starch mixture. I did this (I had plenty of time as the rice cooked!). It also called specifically to use a non-stick pan. Here, I scoffed at Cooking Light, especially since my only non-stick pan was too small. I wasn't fond of the idea of cooking the chicken in batches. So, into my non-non-stick sauté pan went the egg-coated chicken...and onto my pan stuck the eggs, which then burned to a black crust. Because all of the egg mixture eventually fused to the pan, I don't think it played any role in the recipe, which miraculously came out fine. This one is definitely a do-over, and I'll re-post when I give it a second (eggless) try.

"Grilled" Seafood Bake

I had intended to grill my little New England foil packets, but it was pouring rain. And thundering...and lightening...and apparently the lightning struck something nearby because we lost power for a couple of hours, too. Not good when you have an electric stove!

Luckily, the power returned and I fired up the oven for the first time. It didn't go that well. It wasn't the fault of the oven. Rather, it occurred to me as I ate a questionably-cooked shrimp that it would be impossible under any circumstance for the following ingredients to arrive simultaneously at doneness:

* cod filets
* shrimp
* corn on the cob (which is freakishly difficult to cut in half)
* potatoes...especially potatoes

I learned from my last foil-packet-o-fish experiment that I needed to increase the time considerably from my regular fish-cooking time. I did this and checked the packets. The potatoes and corn were kind of cooked, and I decided to serve dinner as-was because the cod was done. After we started eating, however, I found a semi-raw shrimp that was snuggled underneath my corn. Ew. Back into the oven they went. All in all, I quadrupled the grilling time suggested in the recipe (with the packets in the oven at 400º. By the time I pulled them from the oven, everything was perfect, but the cod was overcooked! *sigh* They can't all be good...

The almost-cooked dinner:

Wild Rice and Black Bean Salad

This one's for Meira (and her nutritionist)!

I made this salad on Sunday to fill the bottom compartment of my Mr.Bento, as I get back in the habit of bringing my lunch to work. For a husband on the Core Plan Diet (for life) and a wife in need of losing a few pounds (who is also very afraid of getting hungry at work), this salad is absolutely perfect. It's crazy full of nutrients, it's filling, it's easy to make (if you have the patience to cook wild rice) — and it's also delicious.

Here's the (non-verbatim) recipe from the March 2008 Cooking Light:

Mix all of this stuff in a bowl:

* 1 chopped mango
* a big handful of thinly sliced green onions
* 1/2 cup of cooked wild rice
* a handful of chopped cilantro (I omitted this, as it's the one food John doesn't like)
* a few big spoonfuls of fresh salsa
* the juice of one lime
* 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
* 3/4 tsp salt (a generous pinch of kosher salt)
* freshly ground black pepper
* 15 oz. can of black beans, rinsed and drained


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Avoiding the New Stove

I am perplexed by our new electric, ceramic-top range, and will need to do a bit of practicing before I feel like I can cook again!

In the meantime, I am proud to have made (for our first meal here) a fine dinner of microwaved hot dogs and canned beans. (Did I ever mention how much I like condiments?)

Charcoal grilled corn was part of our second meal.

I did boil water for pasta this week, too, so I at least know how to turn the stove on! Bear with me here...

New Hometown

Well, our move went as smoothly as possible. We were blessed with two days of wonderful weather snuggled in between many days of thunderstorms, and pretty much everything arrived in one piece. The important thing, of course, is that we arrived in one piece to our new home in Adams. From the Town of Adams website, which is chock full of informative tidbits, here's an aerial shot of our new neighborhood:

I'll have my own photo adventure soon — maybe when the leaves change? That'll give me some time to settle in a bit more.

After unpacking and arranging things as best as possible (while we wait for our fabulous new couch to be delivered!), we've done a pretty good job of taking it easy. We caught a couple of matinees (free popcorn on Tuesdays!), walked around Cheshire Lake via the wonderful rail trail, enjoyed deep tissue massages at Cranwell in Lee, and got a personal tour of Kripalu in Lenox!

So, I am just about feeling ready to start my new job on Monday! It's hard to judge the new pace of our lives (ya know, since I've been on vacation...) but things definitely feel calmer. This is a very welcome feeling. Yesterday morning, I bent down to pick up the local newspaper and I found this little guy waiting for me:

He was fun to watch for a few minutes. I like it here.