Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cobb Salad

We stayed at a DoubleTree Hotel when we traveled to Burlington a few months ago. Not only do they present you with warm chocolate chip cookies upon checking in, but their room service menu is surprisingly awesome.

I had ordered a cobb salad and was anticipating a ho-hum dining experience. I suppose a cobb salad is a tough thing to mess up, but this salad was so good that I recreated it as soon as we returned home.

I have been buying local chicken from our co-op and have figured out a cooking method that works perfectly, though I certainly did not invent this method! I confess, too, to buying skin-on chicken breasts because, well, skin tastes good. In my oven-safe grill pan, I sear the salted and peppered chicken skin-side down until it is nice and brown. I flip it over and pop it into a 375 degree oven with a probe thermometer set to alarm me when the internal temperature reaches about 170 degrees. The result is simple perfection!

Toss this chicken with some kind of greens, tomatoes, bacon, hard-boiled egg, avocado, roquefort cheese and vinaigrette. it's a new dinner staple in our home.

Fettuccine with Creamy Red Pepper Sauce

Another of Ellie Krieger's smart, easy recipes, I made fettuccine with creamy red pepper sauce a few weeks ago. I have a recent obsession with this goat cheese, though, and substituted it for the feta she calls for. It made for a creamy sauce, but lacked the saltiness that the feta would have imparted. Next time, feta!

I used a new whole-wheat pasta in this recipe—Bionaturae brand—and it was particularly tasty with a great texture.

Monday, July 27, 2009

At long last...

Wow, so many things could follow that ellipsis...

At long last... I am posting to my blog. I am not at work in the evenings until 10pm. I am not eating Subway for lunch and McDonald's for dinner. I have begun to grocery shop and form meal plans again. I am beginning to experience summer.

A lovely bunch of my former co-workers had sent me a gift certificate to Kripalu after I lost my mom in March. I was holding on to it until the perfect time which, as it turned out, was last Sunday. I went a bit above and beyond the value of the gift certificate, booking a massage and a facial, buying a bunch of skin care products for myself, and eating lunch at Kripalu -- a perfect way to jumpstart a healthy lifestyle!

And then, I took a walk -- my first glimpse of exercise since (embarrassingly) October. 2009 has not been good to me. I am working to get myself back on track.

This week's meal plan is almost entirely coming from Ellie Krieger's "The Food You Crave." This cookbook has some great-looking, healthy, fun recipes and tonight I made her Orange Pistachio Wild Rice Salad.

The salad was filling and finding the pistachios was like a mini treasure hunt. There are a few minor things I would change next time, but mostly I'd like to experiment with the addition of some extra ingredients -- kalamata olives? avocado? 'Til then, I'm just excited to have cooked something real, to have segmented my first orange, and to have some pans (for John) to wash.

Friday, June 19, 2009

In Appreciation

The 2009 Relay for Life begins in 7 hours. My life has been abnormally, unbearably hectic for the past 4 months. I am feeling lucky to have today off from work so I can make the preparations that a good team captain should, and so I can emotionally focus on this event and its specific meaning to me this year.

We knew before losing my mom that we wanted to do something special for the staff at Berkshire Medical Center who were so sensitive to her needs and dedicated to her comfort. What a difficult job these folks have. Soon following our last long day at the hospital, I began thinking of a way to thank these caring people.

I contacted calligrapher Debby Reelitz, who I had worked with previously on a piece that I gave to my parents as a thank-you for hosting my wedding. It was beautiful, and I knew that she would once again create something unique and special -- representative of both my mom and her craftwork.

We selected a color palette based upon my mom's beloved batik fabrics, and chose a poem that celebrated nursing.

I loved the frame as soon as I saw it, and although I worried it was too "whimsical" for something so serious, I could hear my mom's voice telling me that she also liked it and that there was nothing wrong with adding some fun into the piece.

I love it, and I am excited to finally present this most beautiful, meaningful "thank you" to the BMC staff today.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

2009 Relay for Life

Two months ago today, my mom lost her long battle with cancer.

One month from today is the Berkshire County Relay for Life. There are few things I can do to calm the tremendous loss I feel each day. Raising money for cancer research in honor of my mom seems like a good place to start.

I welcome you to visit our team page and make a donation -- of any amount -- to this wonderful cause. For the second year in a row, we are JoAnn's Knockouts.

Note: I will resume blogging sometime soon after this year's Relay.

(Dad, mom and friends -- 2008 Relay for Life)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mini Vacation: Burlington, VT

A few weeks ago, we escaped to Burlington, Vermont. I had been there only once, when I interviewed at the University of Vermont in 1992. In typical Erin-style, I had no memory of ever being there.

We were blessed with beautiful weather, and even got a little sunburn in April -- in Vermont! But mostly, we ate and enjoyed some much-needed relaxation.

Our Garmin GPS has a mind of her own, and she took us a bit off the beaten path as we traveled north, weaving through many miles of beautiful farmland. I had only a couple of must-do things on our trip, and one was to go to Mary's Restaurant at the Inn at Baldwin Creek in Bristol. Little did I realize that we had driven right past it en route to our hotel in Burlington. So, back we went though the miles of beautiful farmland to eat at this wonderful restaurant. The re-trip was well worth it, but that sort of "oops!" theme dominated our trip. I've never planned so little for a trip before, and will be much more diligent next time -- as is, you know, look at a map.

Mary's Restaurant:

Pedestrian Church Street on a warm afternoon:

How different my life would have been if I went to college in Burlington. I mean, there's no sailing in Bosto -- wait a minute...

The Flavor Graveyard at the Ben & Jerry's Factory (another "oops" moment that took us hours off-course):

Friday, May 15, 2009

Balsamic Chicken Thighs (and Wilted Spinach)

It is essential to have some good, quick dinner recipes committed to memory. This was my first time making this Balsamic Chicken recipe from For the Love of Cooking, but it is something I'll be making again and again. (Vinegar!)

I've been using chicken thighs in a number of dishes, but this is the first time I've used thighs in a quick-cooking meal. I found them to be a little too fatty, since the fat wasn't allowed the time to melt as it would in a braise or slow roast. My plan is to remake this recipe with chicken breasts.

Also from For the Love of Cooking, I made a side of wilted spinach with bacon, using Smart Bacon — also quick and very enjoyable!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pickled Grapes

I love grapes. I love vinegar — and not just because a tablespoon of vinegar is the only cure I have found from my sometimes unrelenting hiccups. Put the two together and you have...? A really interesting combination!

The idea of pickling grapes had never occurred to be prior to seeing Smitten Kitchen's recipe. It was simple enough, though, that I had no excuse for not trying it immediately.

They kept in the fridge longer than I expected — both because I thought they would have spoiled more quickly and because we've found it difficult to stop nibbling on them once we start. I haven't thought of an application for them apart from eating them right out of the jar, but am thinking they would be an unexpected addition to a salad (fruit or otherwise). I'll be sure to follow up!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sunday Dinner, Easter Dinner

I'm excited to say that Easter marked our first official "Sunday Night Dinners with Dad" series. Of course, not all of the dinners since then have been quite as fabulous, but I try. Subsequent Sundays have brought to the table brasciole, brisket, spaghetti carbonara, and chicken fajitas. It's a day to look forward to, and a way to guarantee we'll get together at least once a week.

For our Easter dinner, I finally found a piece of beef tenderloin. (Recall that I looked all over town for one several months ago, and ended up cooking this recipe with a pork tenderloin.) I know now why they are not readily available — the price tag. Oddly enough, after purchasing my hunk of meat at Stop & Shop, I found that it is actually considerably less expensive at Guido's. Who'd have thought?

I spent a good amount of time trimming my lovely little tenderloin of fat and silver skin and tying it into an evenly shaped mass (how appetizing that sounds!). It marinated in a mix of mustard, horseradish, rosemary an thyme. It was perfection (if not a teensy bit overcooked for such a tender cut). With it, I served these cracked potatoes, which cook in olive oil on the stovetop (for much longer than the recipe says!) until they are brown and crunchy on the outside and smooth and creamy on the inside.

For dessert, I made Alton Brown's Baked Apple recipe, for which apples are hollowed out and stuffed with butter, brown sugar, oats and cinnamon. Here are the apples pre-baking, and well — served with a little vanilla ice cream, they were devoured too quickly for a post-baking picture. Next time...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sheep to Shawl

I can't take credit for the cute name of the little sheep festival that took place on Sheep Hill in Williamstown this past weekend. What a lovely spring day it was! It was a mini version of the last sheep festival I enjoyed in Waltham.

Mostly, it made me feel like we need to have a baby -- and not just because the little kids wouldn't give up the baby ducks for a minute so I could pet them. Really.

Hard workin' sheep dog:

Sheep-shearing the old way -- with hand-crank shears:

A shocked, sheared sheep:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Caramelized Tofu with Brussels Sprouts and Pecans

I created a largely vegetarian meal plan this week ... and then ended up craving a burger badly come Tuesday afternoon. I am weak.

I had stumbled upon this recipe a while ago on Serious Eats, who stumbled upon the original recipe at 101 Cookbooks. There's lots of stumbling going on in the food blogosphere.

I finally made this for dinner tonight. I think this was my first successful attempt at cooking with tofu -- it always seems to fall apart on me in stir frys and the like. Tonight, though, the tofu was just perfect and I am suddenly feeling very soy-inspired.

We loved this simple meal. The next time I make it -- and there will be a next time -- I will cut the sugar to 2 tablespoons. I also can't help thinking that bacon (or Smart Bacon) would be a lovely addition. Brussels love bacon, and bacon loves them back.

Incidentally, the burgers at the Water Street Grill are really very good.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Improv Pasta -- 300th Post!

Wow. 300 posts to my blog! Many thanks to the small handful of readers that help to stir up my motivation.

I thought it would be fitting if I posted about a dinner improvisation -- something to document how comfortable I've become in my kitchen over the past few years.

I had learned to make a sage and brown butter sauce in a pasta-making class a while back. It is both simple and wonderful. Incorporating roasted cherry tomatoes into this buttery sauce makes it even better.

The other night, I didn't feel like waiting for the oven to preheat, and I also wanted to spare my husband (who is our official, apart from the actual dishwashing machine) from a pile of too many dishes. Instead, I halved a pint of cherry tomatoes and cooked them in some olive oil, sage (from my herb garden!), and garlic in a fry pan (with salt and pepper, of course). After the tomatoes started to lose their shape, I tossed in some chopped kale. Once the kale was bright green and wilty, I removed the pan from the heat and tossed the tomato-kale sauce with some penne.

I was so pleased with the result -- and am always excited to sneak kale into my meal.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cookie of the Month, Part 2: Rugelach

When I saw the recipe for "Walnut and Brown Sugar Rugelach" in Everyday Food many months ago, I was struck by its similarity to my mom's recipe for tassies (see Cookie of the Month, Part 1).

This is the cookie that I baked and brought into work last week (after bingeing on several of them myself) — only, to make it even more like my mom's famous cookies, I replaced the walnuts with pecans.

Pecan and Brown Sugar Rugelach

• 2 sticks unsalted butter
• 8 oz cream cheese
• 2 TBS granulated sugar
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 large egg, lightly beaten
• 1 cup pecans, finely chopped
• 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

Blend the butter, cream cheese, granulated sugar and salt in a food processor. Add flour and pulse until a dough forms. Divide the dough in half and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Make an egg wash — combine egg with 1 tsp of water in a small bowl.

Preheat oven to 350, with racks set in upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each dough half into an 11-inch circle (about 1/4-inch thick). Use a large dinner plate as a guide to trim the dough to make a perfect circle. Brush both circles with the egg wash, and sprinkle with brown sugar and pecans.

Use a pizza cutter to cut each circle into 16 triangles. Roll each triangle toward the center of the circle, place the roll on lined baking sheet (seam side down) and brush with egg wash. Bake for 30-32 minutes until golden brown; cool on a wire rack.

Delicious — like a springtime tassie!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Hazelnut Beans

I cannot express enough joy about my discovery of Dean's Beans coffee. John and I were previously enjoying Dunkin Donuts Hazelnut Coffee each morning, but I decided to do an internet search one morning for organic decaf hazelnut coffee. Dean's Beans was one of the results of my search.

I ordered both their decaf and regular hazelnut beans, and we knew immediately that we had found something special. We accidentally miscounted the scoops and brewed an incredibly strong — yet remarkably smooth — pot of coffee.

From moral and health perspectives, I feel worlds better about buying coffee from Dean's Beans. Here's a little comparison:

Dean's Beans
"Dean's Beans only purchases beans from villages and importers that are committed to Fair Trade and working towards better economic opportunity, improved health and nutrition in the villages."

Ingredients: All-natural hazelnut essence, a splash of vanilla, roasted into a soft Peruvian bean.

Dunkin Donuts
"Dunkin' Donuts is the largest coffee and baked goods chain in the world providing you, our loyal customers, with high quality coffee, bagels, donuts and other baked goods since 1950."

Ingredients: 100% Arabica Brewed Coffee, Hazelnut Flavor [Water, Propylene Glycol, Glycerine, Natural & Artificial Flavors, Caramel Color].
Clearly, D&D is more consumer-focused, while Dean's Beans is founded upon the fair treatment of those people at the source of the beans. And yet, Dean's Beans still provides a better product.

For so many reasons, the Dean's Beans coffee tastes better, and — this blows my mind — the price of a 1-pound bag of ground coffee is $8.00 from either company. As a quasi-locavore, I'm delighted that Dean's Beans is located in Massachusetts, as well.

I've made the switch.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cookie of the Month, Part 1: Tassies

The folks that I work for were so wonderfully supportive during the two months when my mom was extremely ill. They granted me a flexibility that allowed me to spend as much time with my mom and family as I desired, and I will forever be grateful for this.

As I told them, I didn't know how to thank them (apart from being a good employee!) at first, but then an idea popped into my head.

My mom was a wonderful baker — so much so that a handful of people at her wake mentioned the food of hers that they remembered and will miss at holiday gatherings. Me, too. In her memory, I decided to establish a "Cookie of the Month" at my workplace. It was therapeutic to take the time in the kitchen to make this first batch.

Everyone loved my mom's tassies, and rightfully so. I know that she didn't make up the recipe, but no one's tassies compared to hers, and she freely shared the recipe. I made a batch of these wonderful little pecan-pie-like cookies around Christmas and have been wanting to post the recipe since then.

My Mom's Tassies
For the crust:
• 3-oz package of cream cheese (room temp)
• 1/2 cup of butter (room temp)
• 1 cup flour

For the filling:
• 1 egg
• 3/4 cup light brown sugar
• 1 TBS butter, softened
• 1 tsp vanilla
• pinch of salt
• 2/3 cup broken pecans

Blend butter and cream cheese, stir in flour. Chill slightly (about 1 hour), then shape into 2-dozen, 1" balls. Place the balls into the cups of a mini muffin pan. Press dough onto bottom and sides of cups and divide the pecans among the cups.

Beat together the egg, sugar, the TBS of butter, vanilla and salt until smooth. Add this filling mixture to the cups. (I have most recently been placing this mixture in a large plastic bag, then cutting the corner to make a spout for neater pouring.)

Bake at 325 for 25 minutes or until filling is set. Cool slightly and remove from the pans (they are easier to remove while still warm).

My God, they are good! (Part 2 to follow...)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bear With This Blogger

I am going through a very difficult right now, and regret that my blogging has been shelved for nearly two months.

I am just starting to consider and re-enter normal weekly routines (like grocery shopping and, say, being present at work all day), and will soon restart my work in the kitchen. Slowly, I'll get back to posting regularly, but it won't be easy.

I originally created this blog for myself as a means to document the things I create — edible and not. My mom soon became my biggest fan. (I think she was before I created this blog, but she most certainly became its most dedicated reader.)

On March 19th, we lost my mom to some aggressive, unstoppable, evil cancer cells — despite her determined, continuous 2-year fight against them. She was 60 and healthy and wanted so much to be here for me and my family. My mind still cannot seem to comprehend that she is gone.

In many ways, I know I will feel that I am still blogging for her.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Flourless Torte

There has been very little 'making' going on here lately. (My mom remains in the hospital, where she is getting a little stronger each day.) The combination of take-out sandwiches and pizza I've eaten for the past 3 weeks recently had me yearning for something of more substance, and I jetted over to the newly opened The Dancing Vegan in Pittsfield. I wanted to give it a plug, as I will be going back. It seemed particularly appropriate to explore this new take-out vegan restaurant, as one of its founders beat cancer — after being told she had three months to live — by following a macrobiotic diet (learned at the Kushi Institute in Becket). I will be looking into this very soon.

Completely unrelated and un-vegan... I confess that this favorite torte of mine should have been posted in December when it was baked, but I wanted to post something. The written recipe makes this look more complicated than it is -- trust me.

unsweetened cocoa
2 8-ounce packages semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup butter
5 large eggs, separated
1 TBS vanilla
confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 250. Grease a 9" by 2 1/2" springform pan; dust with cocoa. Line pan bottom with parchment or waxed paper.

In 2-quart saucepan over low heat melt chocolate with butter.

In large bowl with wire whisk or fork beat egg yolks with vanilla. Slowly beat warm chocolate mixture into yolks until blended.

In small bowl with mixer at high speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in 1/4 cup confectioners until sugar dissolves and whites stand in stiff peaks. Fold beaten whites into chocolate one-third at a time.

Spoon batter into pan, spreading evenly. Bake 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Cool in pan.

When cool, remove the sides of the pan, then remove torte from pan bottom. Discard parchment.

Cut into 12 wedges. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hospital Food

Seems like I've been posting much more often since we moved back to the Berkshires, so it feels weird to have such a gap in the time that I have updated my blog. I feel compelled to explain that most of my recent time has been spent at the hospital, where my mom was admitted last week for cancer treatment.

Instead of attending the first 2009 Berkshire Relay for Life meeting on Tuesday, we ironically spent the night at the hospital. It's been a rough week, to say the least. I am glad that the hospital provides a wireless service, and I can look over my laptop screen as I type to see my mom reading the newspaper in her bed.

This hospital stay brings two things to mind. One, that we are planning to re-form our "JoAnn's Knockouts" team from last year's Relay, and two, that hospital food is truly awful.

I'm in no mood for a 'rant' right now, but the meal selections here for sick people are so unhealthy. There are no whole grains, almost no vegetables, and the amount of processed food (they can't make their own pudding in the hospital kitchen?!) that shows up on the trays is really shocking. It just seems more like hospital dietary caters more to the average American palette than it does to nutrition-packed foods. In a way, I appreciate the bacon offered at each breakfast, but...I would much rather see my mom's scrambled eggs accompanied by a side of freshly squeezed juice. I can't think of a better time to bring on the superfoods.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pumpkin Risotto with Sage and Truffle Oil

What do you get when you combine recipes for pumpkin penne and barley risotto? Why, pumpkin risotto, of course! I followed my risotto recipe, but replaced the thyme with sage. Near the end of its cooking time, I added about 1/2 can of pumpkin puree, and just a tiny swirl of white truffle oil. Oh, the truffle oil! It really turned this meal into something extra special.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Beet and Pear Salad with Feta

A recent NY Times blog post discussed 11 foods we should all be eating more of. One of these items was raw beets.

I have added small amounts of beets while juicing, but have never really enjoyed them in their larger, solid form. In fact, a little beet goes such a long way in a juicer that I was worried that a beet-based salad would be overwhelmingly beety. It was not.

I discovered this recipe on Serious Eats only a day or so after reading the article in the Times, and we tried it right away. It's adapted from a Jaime Oliver recipe, and is typical of his simple "Jaime at Home" recipes. I used a mandoline slicer to cut the beet and pear and, based upon the trouble I had with my pears, I would recommend that you be sure to buy firm pears. (Bosch pears are pretty, but made for a mushier salad than I would have liked — note mushiness in photo below.) We also cut the amount of cheese in half...oh, and I couldn't find any mint, so we went without. Still, the salad exceeded our expectations!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Resolutions Check-up

I didn't actually begin working toward my 2009 New Year's Resolutions until January 5th. A Monday, I decided, was a much better day than a Thursday to implement such things.

Anyway, I just want to document on February 5th that I have really worked hard at my goals, and have even reached some of them!

I have not finished reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," but I've made much progress. Also, my plan to read the newspaper at work changed when my workload suddenly picked up considerably; I've ended up working (and eating) at lunchtime. So, that needs to change.

I came very close to my goal of losing 5 pounds in a month. I lost 3.4 pounds, which is pretty significant given that it was done with diet alone. Still haven't been to the gym or, you know, for a walk. Stupid snow! Helping with my diet, I have successfully brought my lunch at least 4 out of 5 days of the work week. A much larger percentage of our meals this month have been vegetarian, as I'd hoped. I have also started to become more familiar with local farm options for food. Gosh, I'm excited for Spring!

I am working steadily at learning the bass clef (years of reliance on the treble clef have made my brain so resistant!), and here is my piano-playin' proof. It ain't pretty, but it's progress! (You didn't need to see my pajama-covered arms playing this, right?)

I also started learning to knit this month. Finally! I bought some beautiful cotton yarn (I'm allergic to wool) and what was sold to me as the Ferrari of knitting needles (really, I was hoping for the Corolla version) and have been practicing casting on and off, knitting, and purling with some practice yarn before I move on to the real deal. Good thing, eh?

AND, lastly, I have designed the business cards for my freelance design work, and they are being printed as you read this!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sock It To Me!

(Couldn't help it.) We've been using a wire mesh coffee filter for years. The mesh isn't quite fine enough, and we've always been left with a little sludge in the bottom of our carafe — not to mention a sludgy build-up in the machine that causes frequent, annoying leaks.

Before we broke down and bought paper filters, we decided to give the Coffee Sock a try. It works beautifully, even if it doesn't fit perfectly in the basket. The "Sock" immediately solved our problems, retaining the tiniest fragments of our coffee. We have not had a leak in weeks, and we didn't have to make room in our cabinets for a box of paper filters. Love it!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

So, I am actually skipping this Menu Plan Monday because it's Monday and I have no plan. Logical, eh? I started to come down with a throat/chest bug on Friday, and have been running a temperature that I can't seem to shake.

Despite this, I'm starving. I took the day off from work, which allowed me to make my new 'famous' lasagna (only 4 people have ever eaten it) which just came out of the oven. I'm hoping it will provide meals for us through Wednesday. Add in an 'egg night' and a 'dumpling night' (have I mentioned how obsessed I am with frozen dumplings? So much easier than making my own!) and, well, that's my menu plan for the week!

Yesterday, we went for a short drive to get me out of the house (and out of my pajamas). I really enjoy having a destination, and so I grabbed the Garmin and plugged in the address for Cricket Creek Farm in Williamstown. Coincidentally, it was at the end of the road that we very nearly lived on when we were searching for apartments in the area. I love our little house, but I like cows, too.

I had noticed on their website that their store has long business hours, and is open 7 days a week, so we were in luck. We were greeted at the farm's gate by three curious dogs, who we s-l-o-w-l-y drove past to arrive at the store, which has a change box and operates on the honor system. (Thus, the hours!) We poked through shelves, freezers and fridges and found that we can buy eggs, milk, cheese, and several types of free-range, grass-fed meat at this farm. Though I wasn't prepared to purchase anything on Sunday, this will be a go-to place for my meat needs in the future.

And then we came home and I put my pajamas back on.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Overnight Oatmeal

John and I often joke about our valet...which we don't have. But if we did, he would brew our morning coffee, and he would most certainly have breakfast on the table by the time we hurriedly arrive downstairs.

This morning I discovered a near valet-replacement: my slow cooker.

Thanks to Alton Brown's 4-ingredient Overnight Oatmeal recipe — which took me less time to assemble than it took to pull the crock pot out of the cabinet — breakfast was waiting for us this morning. Who needs a valet?!

Oatmeal made with steel-cut oats tastes worlds better than the flakey stuff, it's less processed, and the texture is much more pleasant. I had a hard time finding unsulfured and low/no-sugar dried cranberries and figs at Stop & Shop, but found these items at our co-op.

One very important thing to note: our slow cooker has three settings — warm, low, and high. At about 9pm, I set this oatmeal to cook on the low setting for 2 hours, which then automatically switches to warm at the end of the set time. The oatmeal was ready by 6am. There are many recipe reviews disparaging this oatmeal because of charred results from cooking it on the low setting all night. Enjoy!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Turkey Picadillo

If I could only get to the top of Mount Greylock this time of year, I would shout out my recommendation to the masses that they make this meal. Since I can actually reach more people via my blog — and because I'm scared of those mountain roads, even in the summer — I'll just say that I think this is a wonderful, interesting, healthy weeknight recipe and I think you should try it.

I was thrilled with the results of a Pork Mango Picadillo recipe a while back (my photo of which is even worse than the one below!*), but wanted to lighten the meal even more. In this variation from Eating Well, I used ground turkey and served the picadillo over brown rice. I also added a handful of slivered almonds at the end. I have made this both with and without eggs — if you don't already have hard-boiled eggs in the fridge, I wouldn't bother.

I am dying to use this meaty mixture as either a taco or empanada/calzone filling. Oh, and the leftovers are even better!

*The lighting in our little house is pretty bad, and one of our hard-to-reach bulbs just burned out — that, in combination with our super-white dishes is making for some bad winter evening photos of 'what I made yesterday!'

Monday, January 26, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Here is the first in a weekly post featuring the Murphy dinner menu for the week, as inspired by (and added to this blog). I think, along with it, I'll post the dollar amount of my weekly grocery bill — exciting, eh?

S: Pumpkin Penne with Apple Sausage and Sage
S: Chicken Saltimbocca
M: Shakshouka
T: Eggplant Curry with Brown Rice
W: Slow Cooker Tex-Mex Chicken and Beans
T: Beetroot Salad with Feta and Scrambled Eggs
F: Open!

Grocery bill from Stop & Shop: $156.70

I had to stock up on some staples this week — thus the large bill!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

It was in an airport bookstore that I first discovered Saveur magazine. That particular issue featured shrimp on the cover, and I instantly fell in love with the magazine's photography. I bought the issue and subscribed as soon as I arrived back home.

Saveur's 100th issue had a feature on bacon (see why I love this magazine?!) and contained a recipe for Spaghetti alla Carbonara that looked so pleasantly simple that I couldn't wait to make it. Wait, that's not true — it took me about 2 years to finally make this recipe! It was worth the wait.

I had made garlic confit about a week earlier by roasting a 2 heads of upside-down horizontally-sliced garlic, covered halfway by olive oil, in a glass dish along with a small handful of whole peppercorns and thyme. Cooking the garlic at 300 degrees for an hour not only produces perfectly spreadable garlic, but also yields the remaining flavored olive oil. Bonus! I started soups with this olive oil, dunked bread in this oil, and used it as a starting point for my Carbonara sauce. (Props to both Tony Fiore's Totally Vegetarian for the garlic confit recipe, and to the lovely blog 28 Cooks from which I won the book!)

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
(in Saveur, adapted from Marcella Hazan's More Classic Italian Cooking)

Heat 3 TBS garlic oil and add 2/3 lb of pancetta cut into strips — cook until edges are crisp. (I used regular ol' bacon this time.) Add 2/3 cup of white wine and simmer until thickened; remove from heat. In a separate bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup parmigiano-reggiano, 1/4 cup pecorino-romano (which makes EVERYTHING tastier and creamier!), a handful of chopped parsley, and 2 eggs. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup of hot pasta water to this mixture, then add the al-dente pasta and pancetta mixture. Season with salt and lots of pepper.

As I have mentioned before, I must remember that cooking with whole wheat pasta does not necessarily a healthy dish make! However, the (healthy) roasted brussels sprouts were the perfect side for this pasta.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Smackdown: Arborio versus Barley

While browsing my meal options for the week this past Sunday, I came across two interesting recipes: one for a super-easy Almond-Vanilla Arborio Rice Pudding, and another for Barley Risotto. I had assessed the contents of my food cabinets just before stumbling upon these recipes and was coincidentally thinking about risotto, since I had quite a bit of arborio rice on hand.

But, barley risotto? I had searched Stop & Shop for barley only a few weeks earlier with no luck. I thought barley was an American staple?! They do sell pearl barley in bulk at the co-op, though, and I bought some for this project. I had never been exposed to barley before, and I was so pleased with the results of this risotto. Many thanks to Kristen Swensson and her post on Serious Eats!

I used chicken stock to make this risotto, but would like to make it again with vegetable stock. I also used the fabulous new enameled cast iron pot that I received for Christmas. In fact, I have used it 3 times over the past 3 days — I cannot recommend it enough.

I added a package of organic frozen grilled vegetables to the risotto for extra nutrients. It was a beautiful thing.

While I was still digesting this dinner, I decided to do a bit of research on barley. As it turns out, I didn't made the uber-healthy meal that I thought I had. The pearl barley I bought could be compared to white rice. It's entire hull and germ have been removed, rendering my little grains much less fibrous than in their dehulled state in which only the outermost part of the hull is removed. (Barley's outer hull must be removed to make it edible.) I am guessing that risotto could not be made using dehulled barley — it would take much longer to cook, and the consistency would likely be altered. It's certainly worth a try, though! Dehulled barley is an amazing source of fiber and nutrients — you can learn more here.

Determined to use my stash of arborio rice, the rice traditionally used to make risotto, I quickly mixed the ingredients for Smitten Kitchen's Almond-Vanilla Rice Pudding. It required so little attention and so few ingredients (all of which I had on hand), that this immediately became my go-to quickie dessert.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mushroom Bourguignon

I am making a conscious effort lately to make more vegetarian meals, and am feeling particularly adventurous in the process. I peruse a number of food blogs daily, and I was recently inspired by the Mushroom Bourguignon post on Smitten Kitchen, whose beautiful photos convince me to add most of their recipes to my to-cook list.

What a wonderful meal this made! (As much as I am trying to eat healthily, I might not be able to resist adding a bit more butter next time.)

I had no idea prior to finding them in the pasta aisle, but they now have whole wheat egg noodles! I do so love egg noodles.

Friday, January 16, 2009

African Ground Nut Stew

When I was first accepted into MassArt, I was told I had to enroll in several Art History classes, and both Iraqi and African Art History were strongly recommended. Convinced that I had taken enough Art History courses already, and determined to start taking Graphic Design courses — I mean, enough with my academic career, already! My career-changing self had been in college for 9 years! — I reluctantly signed up for African Art History with Professor Margaret H. Turner.

It was awesome.

I really love taking Art History classes. In fact, I become overwhelmed with inspiration in an Art History classroom. This same professor traveled with a group of students to Africa, and they returned with a recipe. I have had that little blue recipe card filed away since 2004, and last week I finally made the meal.

It was awesome.

There seem to be a ton of extreme variations on "African Ground Nut Stew," but I am planning to stick with this one.

African Ground Nut Stew
  • olive oil
  • 4 large onions, chopped
  • 2lbs mushrooms, chunky sliced
  • 2 cans tomato paste
  • 3 green chili peppers, chopped (or 1TBS cayenne)
  • 1.5 cups chunky peanut butter (can be cut back to taste)
  • vegetable or chicken stock (optional)
  • tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 1lb fresh spinach
  • rice or grain of choice
  • fun garnish: banana chips, coconut, pineapple

Saute mushrooms (I used several kinds, but you couldn't distinguish between them in the dish) and onions in olive oil in a pretty big pot until the onions are translucent. The big pot is necessary to accommodate the spinach added later.

Add tomato paste, chili peppers (or cayenne), peanut butter (I used less) to the pot. It's thick, but it will loosen as it warms up. You can add vegetable or chicken stock to make the sauce a looser consistency, too. Add tamari (or soy sauce) to taste. Let this sauce summer for about 20 minutes.

Add all of the spinach to the pot (I suppose any dark green leafy thing would work just fine). This will take up a lot of space in the pot, but will cook down quickly. Once it's all wilty and incorporated into the sauce, it's ready to be served over rice or the grain of your choice (we used brown rice). We topped ours with banana chips, but pineapple and coconut were also both recommended.

This recipe made a LOT of sauce, with plenty for dinner and several lunches. I may cut it in half next time.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Weekend Breakfast

My weekday breakfast consists of a small cup of OJ, a bowl of Kashi Heart-to-Heart Honey Toasted Oat cereal, a prenatal vitamin, and a cup of home-brewed Dunkin Donuts Hazelnut coffee (in which I try to use less and less sugar).

But when the weekend rolls around — look out! Then, I have a small cup of OJ, my vitamin, a cup of the aforementioned coffee, eggs of some kind, and two pieces of toasted sprouted bread topped with honey, peach or, mmmm, lingonberry preserves.

Apart from the loaves produced during my recent bread-making experiments, I eat almost no bread (although I like almost all bread). I didn't know what to expect when sprouted bread was recommended to me. According to their website, "Food For Life sprouted breads are made from freshly sprouted grains which contain all of the fiber, bran, vitamins and minerals of the original grain plus an average of approximately 100% increase in those vitamins and minerals."

Though I have only tried the Food for Life/Ezekiel brand, I absolutely love it, and thought I'd spread the word.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I apologize for the lack of much advanced notice, but this little blog has a new, more appropriate URL:

It is no longer (in case anyone searches for the old URL).

Kindly change your bookmarks! Thank you!

Georgia On My Desk

Hooray! Our first Georgia regulations book, in all its re-designed glory, has just arrived at the office. Since starting my job here in August, this is the first book I have worked on that is entirely my design. I really feel I have created a more approachable design with an easier-to-follow layout.

To see before/after samples of my redesign, please visit my design portfolio.

Wow, that's some bass!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Blog Name Change?

I was a bit confused when I first set up my blog. I have pondered changing my blog's URL to a number of times, but always worry that I am going to lose one of my many followers in the process (read: sarcasm). But, I think it's time. It just makes sense, right?

So here's your heads-up (um, mom and handful of other followers) — I think this is a change I will be implementing over the weekend. So sorry for any inconvenience!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Doctor My Eyes

It was John that offered this wonderful suggestion after watching me suffer for years while cutting onions. Ugh, and shallots! I love these ingredients, but quickly tear up at the first slice. If additional slicing or, god forbid, dicing are involved, my cutting board could easily become the scene of a finger-chopping incident. Blindness and a sharp knife — what a bad combo!

I've scoffed at the Onion Goggles at our local kitchen store, but when John approached me one evening with his swim goggles, I decided to give it a try.

How liberating! They worked perfectly, and their new home is in my kitchen drawer.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Loin Me Tender

For a few years now, I have made a weekly food plan. Typically, I wake up ridiculously early on a Saturday and start rummaging through my recipe files (one for recipes I've made, and one for those I have yet to make) as I drink my morning coffee. I fold a blank piece of paper in half twice. On one of the inner panels, I list lunches and dinners that sound appealing to me at the moment, or that play off each other's ingredients. I usually list more meal options than there are meals in any given week, and so I eventually whittle the list down and, on the opposite inner panel, list what we shall have on which day.

I often leave one day blank, giving us the opportunity to grab take-out or to shuffle meals around. Once I know what we'll be eating, I make my grocery list on one of the outside panels. I also divide this panel into 4 rectangles and separate the items on my list into either dairy, meat, produce, or 'other.' I never seem to find myself in the same store, but this division always works. I may not be so organized in other aspects of my life, but my grocery list has definitely got it goin' on!

We don't have a good meat section anywhere here in Northern Berkshire County. (If anyone reads this and can dispute this fact, please let me know.) My nearest meat section is downright pathetic. I have found that I cannot always plan a meal around a given type or cut of meat, since I often cannot find said meat anywhere in this corner of Massachusetts.

Thinking that it was only my neighborhood store that didn't stock beef tenderloin, I bought all of the other ingredients to make a roast. After examining the meat departments of 3 other stores, I gave up and bought the much more affordable pork tenderloin. As per Emeril's recipe in Everyday Food, I marinated it in mustard, horseradish, rosemary and thyme. The roasted pork came out wonderful...but I'm still determined to find beef tenderloin!

Oh, how I miss the meat counter at Whole Foods!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Resolutions (2009 version)

Why do we do this to ourselves?!

I am going to keep this year's list o' resolutions simple. Attempts to break old habits and/or form new ones always offers a challenge, so I am hoping to avoid setting myself up for failure.

I will read one book per month, and I will blog about said book once it has been read. I have been 'reading' Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for well over a year, I think. This is ridiculous. There are a ton of books on my shelf waiting to be read, and it makes me sad. Time to fix that.

I will read the newspaper during my lunch half-hour, instead of spending more time at the computer as I eat. I don't think I've picked up the paper since October (!!), missing some major news stories along the way. The only thing I miss about my Orange Line commute is the time I was able to spend reading the Metro. (Oh, and my train friend, of course!)

A list of resolutions just wouldn't be complete without a weight-related proclamation, so here it is: I will lose 5 pounds by the end of January. Winter is a tough time to implement such a change, but I'm going for it. Look at this crazy weight chart!! This chart shows a year of weight fluctuations, clearly affected my some major life events.

A resolution related to both dollars and pounds, I will pack and bring my lunch box 4 out of 5 work days each week. No problem.

A bit more abstract, but I am going to try to address ideas and issues when they arise. This will hopefully result in a shrinking — rather than an expanding — to-do list.

Stop thinking about craft-making, and start making crafts. Results to be posted on the WIMY blog, of course.

And then...

There are a few things I hope to take care of ASAP (see Resolution Five above). They're more like short-term goals that don't quite fall into the 'Resolutions' category:
  • Design, print and distribute my SplinkDesign business cards for freelance work
  • Learn the bass clef (how else can I progress with my piano-playing?!)
  • Visit local farms and food producers in the area, and hopefully learn enough to start a MeetUp group for such activities
  • Eat more fish and vegetarian meals

There are some aspirations that are difficult to quantify. For these, I turn to my circle of family and friends. I am incredibly fortunate to have been influenced throughout my life by such a group of people. Each day, I will strive to strong as my mom, as reliable as my dad, as compassionate as Jane, as tireless as Ruthie, as smiley as Laura, as honest as Shannon, as artistic as Senta, as perceptive as John...I could go on and on...

Soupy Sunday

I am on a soup kick. This coincides nicely with the bread kick about which I have yet to blog.

I am inspired by chilly winter days, great soup from the co-op, the massive amount of nutrition that you can pack into a soup bowl, and some wonderful recipes that I have come across recently.

Since making my first batch of minestrone, I have made it two more times. I discovered the recipe in Everyday Food and have found it to be easy and completely flexible — a wonderful way to clean out the fridge! I think I can make it without looking at the recipe now (well, my own version, anyway).

Minestrone Soup
Roughly dice (is that an oxymoron?) an onion, a couple carrots, and a couple celery stalks and add them to a big pot with a good amount of olive oil. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes and some fresh herbs (rosemary and/or thyme are nice — dried works OK, too). Sweat these veggies over medium heat with some salt (and pepper) until they begin to soften.

If you have a tube, squish some tomato paste onto the softened veggies and stir until the paste cooks a bit. Add a can of whole tomatoes (I've only been using Muir Glen brand), which you have cut into chunks (using kitchen shears right in the can!), and let it reduce for a bit. When all of your veggies are ready, add them to the pot. I have used combinations of cannellini beans, edamame, green beans, kale and red potato. I have also added pasta to the mix.

Add 7 cups of water (or chicken stock) and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add salt to taste — like, a lot — especially if you have used water and not stock. You can add basil and parmesan cheese after cooking, too.

I don't consider mine to be a food blog, really. In fact, it had started off as more of a craft/design blog, but we all have to eat, so... I don't always include recipes in my posts for that reason. Rest assured that if I take the time to type a recipe, I think it's worth sharing! (Of course, feel free to ask me for any that I don't include.)