Monday, December 29, 2008

Grandma's Galumpkis

Neither side of my family is of Eastern European descent, but since the Irish have contributed little to the culinary world, we seem to cling like overly-mashed potato to the foods of other cultures. My grandmother and aunt have an obsession with making galumpkis that not only encouraged me to eat my first galumpki this year, but also had me making two different recipes to see if I could make the perfect cabbage-wrapped meat dumpling. (They are a perfect meal for John, who has successfully cut bread from his diet.)

The first recipe was my grandma's standard galumpki recipe, which I copied from the browned page of an old cookbook. These galumpkis are very good, but they just seem to be missing something. Of course, I have nothing to compare them to, so this is based upon my imagination. I also tried Tyler Florence's recipe, which differed from my grandmother's in that some of the "meat mix" ingredients were sauteed before rolling them in the cabbage leaves. It also had a different approach to the sauce, using crushed tomatoes instead of tomato soup. I turned to my crock pot both times, rather than the oven.

I think it is my extreme fondness for Asian potstickers that has me trying to tweak these Polish recipes. I want the sauce to be sweet and vinegary, and I want there to be some sausage flavor in my dumpling. Otherwise, I find them a bit...bland. I realize that I am straying from the foundation of the galumpki here, but these flavors will be my goal when I attempt to make these for the third time. OR, maybe I should try to make steamed, cabbage-wrapped Asian dumplings? (On that subject, the frozen vegetable and chicken potstickers from Stop & Shop are really very good!)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Last Vacation Day

I'm not sure that trying to see everyone we know in a 4-day span constitutes a vacation, but sadly, today marks the end of my Christmas break. I celebrated by making soup and refusing to get out of my pajamas. I had fun with the whole wheat vegetable alphabet noodles as the soup cooked — thus, the new header! (It's about time I designed a custom header for my blog!)

Friday, December 26, 2008

What Dad Made Yesterday #1

Those of you who live on or visit my parents' street might have noticed that there are fewer trees around their house each year. My dad has gone on several tree cutting sprees, all of which are perfectly justified by the trees' disease states. Says the cutter, "They are going to come down by themselves anyway, and this way they won't fall on the house...or a car...or a person." I'm paraphrasing here.

Anyway, the most recent victim was a large pine tree between the front yards of my parents and their (one) neighbor. When we fist moved to the street in 1982, the tree was small enough to be decorated with holiday lights. This fall, however, the tree was gigantic and infested with ants that had weakened the internal structure of the trunk. So, dad fired up the chain-saw and cut the tree down, with help from his neighbor, until a large stump remained.

And then he carved some more...and researched, and carved, and painted, and added little reflecty eyes. My dad chainsaw-carved a bear!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We *Heart* Our Wreath!

What a wonderful surprise it was to see a big cardboard box waiting for us as we pulled into our driveway a few weeks ago! Thank you, Friend, for the wonderful boost to our not-so-boosted holiday spirit! We love it. It makes us smile.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Blue Box Be Gone!

Although I have sworn off the famous Blue Box for life, some unseen force resulted in my grabbing an assortment of Annie's Organic Macaroni and Cheese from the grocery shelf: white cheddar, yellow cheddar and whole wheat. We ate them all, and then I bought more. This, I thought, must mean that we like it.

It will never compare to my nostalgic Blue Box Mac & Cheese, but I feel much better about eating Annie's (ya know, with Philip Morris owning Kraft Foods, and all).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pumpkin Penne with Sausage

Hmmm... What to do with some leftover pumpkin puree?

Determined to get it right this time (versus this time, and this time), I took a look at my previous attempts at making a pumpkin-related pasta dish. This time I got it right.

My plan of attack was to almost mimic my Penne ala Vodka, using pumpkin puree instead of tomato sauce, and adding meat. My meat of choice this time was maple-apple chicken sausage, which was a perfect match for the pumpkin. I cut the sausage into bite-sized pieces and browned them (even though it was pre-cooked) in some olive oil. Once browned, I added a couple handfuls of shallots to the mix, cooking until slightly soft. A bit of chicken stock deglazed the pan of its dark brown sausage-y bits, and after reducing for a few minutes, I added my leftover pumpkin puree (which was maybe 3/4 cup). I let the ingredients mingle as our (whole wheat) pasta cooked, then added some heavy cream, a little butter (never underestimate the power of butter!), and some salt and pepper.

It was perfect. It was almost perfect. It was so very orange, though, and John and I both decided that the addition of some sage in the next rendition would be the perfect cure.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ice Storm

John and I left early Saturday morning for a weekend trip to Boston. As we packed our little suitcase, our conversation went something like this:

Him: I was thinking of taking the Pike to Boston and Route 2 home from Boston. [You see, we're very tired of the the point where it sucks the life out of us. Er, me.]

Me: Well, it's a beautiful driving day today, and we don't know what tomorrow is going to be like...[clearly] we should take Route 2 today. It'll be fun!

Him: OK.

So, yeah...we have a small pile of unopened newspapers from the latter part of last week, and once we saw that John had school on Friday, we thought that the storm forecasters had really gotten it wrong.

They didn't. The storm just happened to miss us, and for that we are very lucky and grateful. Below are some photos from the early part of our trip on Route 116 through Cheshire, Savoy, and Windsor, Massachusetts. Absolutely everything was encased in glass-like ice, weighing down trees, powerlines, signs, and even blades of grass.

(Even apart from the storm, this was the worst route yet that we have taken across the state!)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pumpkin Ice Cream

I have been a slacker when it comes to making desserts. Thanksgiving morning, I knew it would be a boost for my holiday spirit to put that can of pumpkin puree to good use. So, I spent the morning making pumpkin ice cream.

As with most of the ice cream I have made, the recipe came from the Williams-Sonoma Ice Cream book, which has proven to be a wonderful resource. (The only disaster I've experienced so far in my ice-cream making involved orange sorbet, and I'm pretty sure that was entirely my fault.)

Here's my creation, packed and ready to be transported to our T-Day gathering:

Looks like peanut butter, doesn't it?

I found this ice cream to be very heavy, almost as if I drank a glass of pumpkin pie (milk cravings soon followed). All of the home-made ice creams I have made are more substantial than their store-bought counterparts, most likely because of the egg content. Still, it's difficult not to fill up one's bowl with giant scoops!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Baby Shower Invites: Lucas and Elena

My friend, Jessie, had found the perfect invitation for her baby shower...almost. It was not the right color for her celebration and, more importantly, it did not reflect that there are two babies on the way. With her direction, we put a spin on the invitation that she found.

The original, by Tiny*Prints, can be viewed by clicking here.

And here is my design:

Matching thank-you cards will soon be designed, as well. Especially since the little duckies arrived this week!

Friday, December 12, 2008

My 1st New Jersey Freshwater Fishing Digest

I've been at my new job since the middle of August, and am very excited that my first book is about to hit the shelves in New Jersey!

Picking up another designer's files (and making them your own) can be very challenging. Style sheets are so personal!

Most of my own personal style and (obsessive) attention to detail can be felt beyond the cover, and I really think that my designs and re-designs have improved the readability of this book. Readability seems particularly important when your job is to clearly convey the laws of the Environmental Protection Agency. Of course, all of the charts and fish identification images I have been working on have me wanting to design a logo, or come up with an ad campaign!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Kathy's Famous Lasagna, Remixed

Our Christmas and 4th of July gatherings would simply not be the same without my Aunt Kathy's famous lasagna. This is not a family recipe, per se, nor is it an authentic lasagna recipe by any means. It's entirely constructed of pre-made ingredients, most of which are really salty and fatty and bad for you. My god, though...this lasagna really tastes very good.

To make this much-loved dish, Kathy browns some ground beef, sometimes along with some sausage, and ads this meat to a big jar of Ragu (with meat) along with a packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix...and pepperoni. Salty Salterson! Uncooked lasagna noodles are layered with this sauce, cottage cheese, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese. I've never met a person who didn't like it.

Unfortunately, that recipe relies heavily on processed, packaged foods. It's a wonderful treat twice a year, but I wanted a weekday meal that we could consume without guilt for several days. I set out to make a healthier version, using ingredients as close as possible to their natural form.

I replaced all of the meat with hot turkey sausage. I browned the meat and added 2 cans of Muir Glen crushed tomatoes to the mix along with a little kosher salt. (As an important aside, I buy Muir Glen tomatoes in their various canned forms whenever possible. Their flavor and freshness really do make a difference in the outcome of any meal.)

I let this tomato sauce simmer for a while (30 minutes?) while I made some caramelized onions to replace the concentrated flavor of the Lipton Onion Soup Mix. I cut about 5 medium onions into rough strips and slowly cooked them in some olive oil and butter over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes, occasionally covering and sometimes stirring until brown, sweet, and just starting to fall apart.

To add some nutrition to the meal, I thawed two packages of frozen spinach, ringing them out very well to get rid of the extra water. I was also sure to use whole wheat lasagna noodles (I've never once pre-cooked lasagna noodles, nor have I ever bought the no-boil noodles — they all work!) and low-fat cottage cheese (I refuse to buy non-fat products—they scare me), as well as part-skim mozzarella cheese.

Once everything was ready (and the oven was preheated to 375 degrees), I began the layering: sauce, noodles, sauce, cottage cheese, spinach, onions, mozzarella, shredded parmesan, noodles, sauce, cottage cheese, spinach, onions, mozzarella, shredded parmesan, noodles, sauce, mozzarella, parmesan. Phew, that was fun!

Then, into the oven it goes — covered with foil for the first 45 minutes, then foil-less for the final 15 until the cheese is brown and the lasagna is bubbly.

This lasagna was unbelievably awesome and, really, it was my first official original recipe! John really loved it, which worked out especially well. The lasagna was primed for consumption (after a rest overnight in the fridge) on his birthday. Since he's not eating bread or anything remotely cake-like, I came up with a solution... (The lit candle, a barrier between the lasagna and his fork, didn't last long enough for a photo.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Homemade Pesto, Storebought Pasta

OK, OK... I made this meal at the end of the summer in an effort to gather and use the leaves of my basil plant before it died.

I find that jarred pestos often have a weird fake taste to them, and it was great to make my own (using Helen Rennie's recipe as posted on her blog — my god, she must think I am a stalker!) to top some quickie Buitoni 3-Cheese Tortellini. As much as I try to make all of my meals from scratch, there are (at least) two nights a week where I give in to at least partially prepared dinners.

I have actually been having a difficult time finding the refrigerated Buitoni pasta in my local grocery stores. Stop & Shop has replaced it with their own (nasty) brand, and Price Chopper no longer carries it. We recently tried the Barilla (dry) Porcini Mushroom Tortellini in its place (below, with a quick buttery cream sauce with peas), and found the filling texture to be gritty and weird. Ew. Maybe we need to try frozen?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Cast Iron, Reseasoned

Those of you who follow my blog might remember how I stupidly braised chicken in wine in my beautifully-seasoned cast iron dutch oven. When I washed the pot, I discovered that the acidic wine had stripped the iron of its protective coating. Oops.

Finally, I got around to reseasoning the pot. It was easy enough...just had to melt some vegetable shortening in the microwave to make it liquidy enough to easily coat the entire pot. I then popped the upside-down pan into a cold oven (with an aluminum-lined cookie sheet on the rack beneath it), and heated the oven to 400 degrees. The pot "cooked" for an hour, then remained in the oven to cool. It got smelly in the house (and my eyes burned a little), but I was delighted when I removed the cool pot to find that the silvery areas were nice and coated once again. (Easy enough, but it doesn't stop me from dreaming of an enamel coated cast iron dutch oven...)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Italian Soup, Two Ways

My mom discovered this Italian Soup recipe sometime around 1990 (perhaps she remembers the source, and can share it in a comment below...?) It's one of the first things I ever attempted to make on my own, and it really is a tasty, hearty dish. Much more stew-like than soup-like, I think.

I recently made this using the old recipe card I had written 15 years ago, and decided that I would make some healthy adjustments in my next attempt.

Here's the original recipe:

Brown a roll of Jimmy Dean pork sausage in a dutch oven; add one chopped onion and one chopped green pepper. Once the vegetables have started to cook, add a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes, 2 8oz cans of tomato sauce, 2 8oz cans of water, 3 cubes of chicken bouillon, and 3/4 tsp garlic powder and simmer (covered) on low for 15 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of ditallini pasta, stir, cover and cook for 10-12 minutes. (The soup will thicken if it is left to sit for a bit). Top with shredded mozzarella and serve. Yum!

So, I basically tried to un-Sandra-Lee-ify this recipe. For the modified recipe, I browned turkey sausage (instead of the Jimmy Dean pork sausage) in some olive oil, I omitted the bouillon cubes and replaced the water with chicken stock, I used real garlic instead of garlic powder, and I used small whole wheat pasta shells instead of the standard ditallini. The result was wonderful, and might even be considered healthy!