Friday, December 28, 2007

The Best Husband Ever and I are take pictures at our friends' wedding tomorrow. This evening we attended the rehearsal and dinner. The groom's cake was a special order, made at one of the hoity-toity-est bakeries in town. The top and bottom tiers were chocolate cake, and the center tier was orange. I had some of the chocolate layer, and it was pretty good. The cake part (which I usually like the least, given my super sweet tooth) was quite nice, but the brown decoration that was draped over the top of the cake was odd. It was sweet and tasted okay, but was also gummy and just all around weird. I didn't get to taste one of the oranges, but they looked adorable. It always saddens me how it seems that the swankier and more expensive the food, the more over-thought and as a result (and this is a huge and sweeping generalization, to be sure) less tasty the food ends up being. But still, free cake is good cake in my book. Especially if it's pretty pre-wedding cake.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I do other things besides cook and bake all the time. Weird, right? I know. But it's true. Really. I promise. I do things like reading [blogs], writing [blogs], taking pictures (and blogging them), and crocheting. I don't crochet nearly often enough, but when I do I really enjoy it. It's great fun, and sometimes even relaxing, to chat with a fellow crafting friend while your fingers work away at the fibers, or to know that your time spent watching old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are redeemed by the fact that you made something (or made progress on something) during that sugary forty-five minutes of angsty, vampire-pwning, altogether delightful (and addictive) entertainment. (Note: I usually don't do this. Instead, the Best Husband Ever simply watch said sugary forty-five minutes of angsty, vampire-pwning, and altogether delightful entertainment straight up.)

But cooking and crocheting don't have to be exclusive of each other. In fact, there is quite an army of crocheted plush food creations that are spinning from hooks across the four hemispheres. This little stuffed lovelies (also known as amigurumi) are usually quite adorable, and can be just about anything. From tomatoes to lattes to, of course, these sweet muffins, crocheted (and, at times, knitted) foodie projects are fun, fast, fairly easy, and are really, really cute. I even made an amigurumi turtle a while back for my niece's birthday.

I'm feeling crafty at the moment. I just finished a scarf that will soon make its way across the Atlantic in the luggage of a dear friend, and will hopefully warm the neck of some international student there who is ill-equipped to stay warm through St. Petersburg's deep winter. Perhaps I will start on an amigurumi fruit bowl, or some tasty chocolate-covered strawberries. Perhaps indeed.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Because I don't think you have quite seen the weirdness of this Muffin Chick yet, dearest reader. What's your favorite kind of muffin?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Another Monday, another muffin. Amber and I met at Bernice's Bakery for muffins, coffee, and chit chat. Our muffins -- blueberry bran, and very tasty -- were not at all Christmas-y, but starting Christmas Eve day in this way felt delicious.

Fun muffin factoid: both Amber and I devour our muffins in an upside down fashion. Why? I can only write for myself on this one, but the answer is, to my mind, rather obvious. I like to save the best part -- the crispier, crustier muffin top! -- for last. Mmm.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

When I first discovered the Royal Foodie Joust, a monthly cooking challenge hosted over at The Left Over Queen, I was hooked. Looking for a way to connect with other food and cooking enthusiasts as well as expand my own skills and tastes. The Joust seemed to provide the perfect manner to accomplish both.

What is the Royal Foodie Joust? you ask. Every month, three ingredients are chosen and participants must incorporate said ingredients into a culinary creation. The winner receives the satisfaction of a job well done, the opportunity to select the next month's three ingredients, and, of course, eternal fame and glory.

This month's required ingredients are the subtly holiday themed pom- egranate, pistachios, and mint. I had several ideas percolating regarding my entry. A minty pear, pom, and pistachio crisp, perhaps? Or what about nutty pomegranate and mint bagels? Both sounded good . . . but biscotti sounded better. Not only are the crunchy Italian cookies healthy treats that can be very low in bad fats, but they are also incredibly versatile. It seems to me that it would be very difficult to ruin a biscotti simply by virtue of misguided flavor choices. Nuts of every kind, chocolate, citrus, dried fruit -- so many combinations can go into biscotti, and every one of them can be delicious even if unexpected.

Also, I had been planning a biscotti-making venture for quite some time. They ended up becoming my Christmas gifts for a couple of friends who have long been subjected to the relics of my muffin-baking escapades. They deserve some non-muffin goodies. (Although the respite did not last long -- I am meeting one lovely and long-suffering chic for a Monday morning muffin tomorrow.)

So there you have it -- my very first entry for the Royal Foodie Joust is the crispy and delightfully refreshing Biscotti Feste,a pomegranate and pistachio biscotti with peppermint. ("Feste" means "holiday" in Italian, as in "buone feste," or "happy holidays.") Never having cooked with any of the three ingredients before (as well as never having made biscotti), I'm satisfied with the results. The pomegranates are subtle, and the pistachios are crunchy but not too hard, and both add great texture. My one regret is that I put the peppermint on top of the biscotti before baking them; next time I will leave the candy off until closer to the end of the second round of baking so it doesn't melt. Still, the sweet holiday mint combined with the solid taste and texture of the wheat flour and pistachios is absolutely lovely.

This is also my entry for the lovely Susan's Eat Christmas Cookies extravaganza. Bake on!

Biscotti Feste

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
6 eggs (I used 1.5 cups Egg Beaters)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1.5ish cups pistachios, shelled and coarsely chopped
10ish peppermints
seeds of 1 pomegranate*

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Mix all the dry ingredients excluding the pistachios. In a separate bowl, combine the liquid items. Slowly, stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ones until the dough is stiff. Be careful not to over-mix. Work the nuts and pomegranate seeds in. (I started out planning to use about 2 cups of pistachios, but that seemed like a lot. I ended up with one or one-and-a-half cups. If you want a nuttier cookie, feel free to add more.)

On a greased baking sheet, shape the dough into two separate rectangles that are about three inches across and 15 inches long. They should not touch.

Bake for 20 minutes in your oven. While the logs are baking, crush your peppermints into pieces of your desired size. This will be messy. You may want to try a food processor, but I simply smashed them with a knife handle. As with the pistachios, use as many or few mints as you wish. If you want the mints to melt over your biscotti, sprinkle the pieces over the logs before the first baking. Otherwise, try pressing the sprinkles into the tops of the logs before you slice them (see below).

Remove the baked logs from the oven and let them sit until they feel cool to the touch. With a sharp knife (I've heard serrated blades recommended for this, but I did just fine with a regular butcher's knife), slice the logs into 3/4 inch slices. Arrange the pieces on the baking sheet so the sliced sides are down. Baking for fifteen more minutes, then flip them over so the opposite side faces down and bake for 3-5 more minutes. The biscotti should be a lovely golden brown when they are finished.

Let them cool completely on a wire rack. Then enjoy them with tea or coffee, give them as gifts, or store them for the coming cold and wintry weeks in an air-tight container.

*Never worked with a pomegranate before? Not to fear! Find a guide on seeding pomegranates at Simply Recipes.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My entry for the Royal Foodie Joust is finished! More on it tomorrow, as I am rather exhausted at the moment due to the massive insomnia of this week.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I am in the middle of creating my entry for the January 2008 Royal Foodie Joust, hosted by The Left Over Queen. The entries must include the specified ingredients, which for this month are pomegranates, pistachios, and mint. What am I making? you may ask. Well, that will be top secret until it's finished. But I'll leave you with a smattering of hints -- it's a cookie, it's somewhat Christmas-y, and it's the first time I've made this kind of goodie. Wonder away, at least for a little while longer!

I will also leave you, gentle reader, with my current thoughts on the process. Having never used (or even eaten!) fresh pomegranate before, I not only made a mess of myself and my kitchen trying to seed the fruit, but I'm not sure if I should have baked the seeds directly into my cookie or if I should have juiced it instead. Also, I had planned to have crunchy peppermint sprinkles topping the mystery cookies, but I think I put the mints on too early because they melted. Perhaps they will still be crunchy, but they are definitely not spiky or sprinkle-like any longer. Ah, well. Melted peppermint swirls are lovely, and just as tasty! And hopefully all of these cookies will be delicious, not just the minty parts. What a fun challenge this is turning out to be!

(Image from DCW Hawaii, an online Hawaiian gift shop.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

It's Thursday -- only five days until Christmas! But before we get to the celebration, another Thursday Thirteen (edition six this go around) is on the menu. I stole this week's theme from Paige (what a fun idea!). Enjoy!

Thirteen of my favorite smells...
  1. My husband's shaving cream.
  2. Vanilla.
  3. Gas stations, as smelled from inside the car while it's being fueled.
  4. My much-loved and long-deceased pet rats. (They smelled strangely sweet and lovely, belying most people's expectations, I would imagine.)
  5. Pumpkin, cinnamon, and any other "harvest spice" type of scents.
  6. Baking garlic bread.
  7. Any confections baking in the oven, especially cookies.
  8. East coast pizza parlors.
  9. The incense used in Catholic churches. (I don't know, it's very specific to the Catholic church for me. And I don't like all varieties of incense, either.)
  10. Evergreen trees.
  11. Horses and the places they are kept (i.e., barns, stables, pastures, etc.).
  12. The ocean.
  13. The pages of a book, new or old, as well as libraries and book shops.
(Header from Everybody Lies. Thank you!)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A darn good cappuccino, which is apparently not always easy to find.
I made an exciting discovery today: the Royal Foodie Joust, hosted by the lovely Left Over Queen. What is the Joust? you may well wonder. It is a (seemingly, to my eyes) a super-fun monthly event in which a set of requirements for a dish are given, and participants must create a dish within those parameters. For example, by January 1, 2008, participants will create a dish that incorporates pomegranates, pistachios, and mint in some way. Then they post the recipes and photos on the forum (and, in many cases, their blogs) and the voting begins! It's all in good fun, and it seems to me a good way to expand my cooking skills and tastes and to interact with other blogging food-lovers. So what am I planning for my entry? Well, you'll just have to stay tuned and see, because it's top-secret for now!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'm sick. Or, more accurately, I was sick yesterday and am feeling better (although not quite my best). I didn't sleep last night, and as I only napped for about an hour during the day, I ended up falling asleep at about six o'clock in the evening, just after my poor husband got home. But I did need the rest, so I suppose it's okay. Besides, I made him another small batch of muddy buddies, this time with the proper kind of sugar, so that sweetens the deal. Har har...sweetens...yes, that was a somewhat intentional pun. It's punny, as the Hubby would say. All this to say, that's why my daily blogging was deferred slightly. But I'm counting this post for yesterday. Take that, time!

Speaking of sweet things, I made an unfortunate discovery. When my tummy is causing my troubles as it has been, I like to drink sparkling water. It's bubbly and refreshing, even as it does tickle my insides a little once it arrives in my beleaguered belly. But it makes me feel a little peppier, a little more myself. So you'll find me stocking up on most non-berry flavors of sparkling water when I don't feel my best. My favorite flavors are grapefruit and coconut/pina colada types. During yesterday's Safeway run, however, I ran across an intriguing new (and presumably holiday-centered) flavor: apple cider.

Apple cider sparkling water? Yes, it sounds odd, but I'm a sucker for all things fall/winter holiday- related, so I bought a bottle. Although it tastes pretty much nothing like apple cider, its bubbly vanilla taste wasn't bad. I enjoyed it -- until I discovered one of its ingredients. Aspartame. Ick. Here I was, operating under the illusion that all sparkling water is innocent and innocuous in its nutritional voidness. It's water with bubbles. What could be so bad about that, right? But now I discover that its sugar free identity is driven by faux apple cider cancer and all I can say, once again, is ick. Natural flavors, as the bottle's main label purports? That's about as natural (and almost as disturbing) as this.

(On a semi-side note -- gentle reader, I apologize for this disturbing and bloody eyeballed photo of me. But really, that's how sad I was to discover the violation of my beloved sparkling water. I suppose its the way of non-flavored sparkles for me now.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The missions trip fundraiser my church held this morning seems to have been a success! I manned the soup and sandwich table, which fared quite well after the first service, and lots of people bought goodies and crafts. Of the treats that I baked, the things I was least proud of sold the most. Apparently, scones are a rare but popular item at such sales, so I will take that into account for future sales I cook for. It was very gratifying to see the pastor walking around with a bag of my apricot scones, eating them as he visited with people. But there is a very serious baker who contributed some amazing treats, including these adorable snowman cupcakes. Her crowning achievement, however, was the cake shaped like a Christmas tree ornament. It was beautifully frosted, perfectly round, and about seven inches in diameter. Food porn in person is such fun! (I apologize for the low-quality image, by the way. I forgot to charge my camera's batteries, procrastinator that I am, and was forced to use my camera phone instead.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The missions fundraiser my church is holding is tomorrow. I hope my goodies sell. I'm a little nervous because I wasn't quite sure how to package them. I bought some special bags just for this occasion, but I didn't realize the bags were quite so opaque. I worry that people won't buy those items because they can't quite see what's inside. However, I tried to counter this unexpected issue by including a ziplocked version of every fancily bagged treat. I hope it works!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The baking extravaganza for Sunday's fundraiser continued today. I made six pumpkin gingerbread muffins, three small loaves of pumpkin gingerbread (sadly, one split in half, so I will have to sell that loaf by the slice), and a batch of tasty molasses cookies. I hope everything sells so I don't have to find homes for the leftovers!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

How can it be Thursday already? Christmas looms ever closer, I spent an hour at Wal-Mart today due to holiday crowds (and have done no holiday shopping of my own), and more snow fell today. It must be December! On a mostly unrelated tangent, my Thursday Thirteen for this week (edition five already!) is...

Thirteen foods I have made recently, in reverse chronology...
  1. Cornbread*/corn muffins. While I usually enjoy the tops of muffins most, the bottoms on the corn muffins I made this evening were delightfully crispy while cocooning a moist and springy center. Yum!
  2. Various soups for the past two nights' dinners. I seem to be getting better at these, because tonight's was better than last night's (although both were hearty, healthy, and tasty). They were both minestrone-esque soups.
  3. Sweet potato fries, baked in the oven to go along with last night's soup. While my husband doesn't like them unless they're crispy, these limp babies never fail to make me happy, not to mention warm and full.
  4. A deliciously smooth breakfast smoothie. You can't go wrong with banana and yogurt.
  5. Lemon bars. A little too lemony (I'll use one tablespoon less of lemon juice next time around) and the bottom crust was a little funny (probably, again, due to my misguided butter substitution efforts), but still a tasty treat.
  6. Apple-stuffed baked acorn squash. Mmm squash.
  7. Pumpkin gingerbread.*
  8. An attempt at berry brownies, unfortunately failed due to me (yet again!!) foolishly removing butter from the recipe and replacing it with an odd cocktail of applesauce and yogurt. These were donated to my husband's very gracious parents.
  9. Apricot scones and chai cookies*. These turned out okay, although not great.
  10. Almond bars*. Again with the poor butter choices, again with the mediocrity.
  11. Another breakfast smoothie, this time of pumpkin, the only true rival to the banana/yogurt combo.
  12. My first scone creations, yummy lemon berry scones*. Even the batter for these tasted great -- and I successfully removed the recipe's butter!
  13. In my most ambitious soup-creation effort to date, gingered carrot soup. Besides, anything that allows me to use my nifty blender gets a thumbs up from this muffin lovin' chick.
* On Sunday I will be selling these goodies at my church to raise money for a mission trip. I hope that people will buy my treats because a) I want to help raise funds, and b) I don't want to go home with anything!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Smoothest Smoothie

2/3 cup fat-free vanilla yogurt
1 banana, sliced
1/2 cup ice
juice from one orange

Combine, blend, and sip with great contentment. It's especially tasty if you drink it out of a snazzy glass like I did this morning.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pretty food is fun. And there is a true artistry to making food beautiful, an act that is quite bittersweet, and profound, even. It flabbergasts me, the effort some wonderful bakers and chefs put into make their food visually appealing when said food will be consumed and effectively destroyed. Today I was searching for gingerbread houses on Flickr, curious to see what the most elaborate and over-the-top creations are out there. What I found was the photostream of California Girl Confections, the maker of not only the most darling gingerbread houses ever, but also a food artist. Her cookies are amazing in their delicate detail, and they look quite delicious, too. Fill my stocking with her goodies for Christmas this year, please!

For the curious, I also found quite a few ridiculously fantastic gingerbread houses. (I also found this lovely watercolor by a user whose name is "snugglemuffin." I'm a sucker for the muffin love!)I want to live in them (and, perhaps, eat them from the inside out). There is something so appealing to me about gingerbread houses, despite the fact that I don't care much for gingerbread. The pounds of sugary icing covering these houses probably has something to do with my captivated interest. . . .

Monday, December 10, 2007

I'm feeling rather sore and ill in the tummy region today, so I'll just leave you with a photo of Saturday's delicious lunch, baked acorn squash stuffed with apples, raisins, and cranberries.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

As I have mentioned before, in exactly one week my church is holding a craft/bake sale to raise money for next year's mission trip to Malaysia. Since I (obviously) enjoy baking, I plan to contribute some goodies to the effort. My first phase, the lemon berry scones, were a great success. Since then, however, I have had a series of mediocre and misses roll out of my oven as I attempt to make tasty but healthy (at least, more or less healthy) cookies.

I think I have figured out what the problem is. You see, I love cookies. In fact, I love desserts. I am the rather sad owner of a massive sweet tooth, or perhaps an entire mouthful of them. I could sit down and eat an entire box of Oreos or an apple pie or a gallon of ice cream. Of course, I would feel rather sick after such an adventure, but I could make it most of the way through a large package of any dessert without feeling the effects too strongly. So I bake with great care and some trepidation. I am afraid that, upon producing a particularly tasty batch of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, I will eat every last one of said tasty cookies. And then will come the self-disgust, guilt, and, of course, the inevitable aching belly. As a result, I bake items that either are nutritionally redeemable (such as multi-grain muffins, scones, or breads) or are something I won't like and thus won't nibble at (although this is a very rare occurrence).

But it's not the fact that I want to make healthy treats that is the problem, although that's where the problem stems from. The real problem is that I have been making poor substitution choices, specifically in the area of butter. I dislike using butter, almost as much as I dislike cornstarch and shortening. So I avoid using it whenever possible, replacing it with applesauce or yogurt. Apparently, though, this tactic does not work in cookies and brownies. Or really, it doesn't result in proper cookie and brownie texture. I have turned out a couple of batches of cookies that, while they taste fine, are rubbery and strange to the touch. They feel as if you could play racquetball with them and they would come out alright after the match. From too-spongy chocolate chai cookies to a dish of ridiculous dense berry brownies (those puppies slid out of the baking dish in one rubbery mass which, as my husband astutely pointed out, is something that good brownies never do), my efforts in the cookie family creation have had, at best, dubious results.

So what's a health-conscious and potentially gluttonous baker to do? What are good substitutions for butter and oil in cookies that will result in goodies that actually taste and feel like cookies? Or is this a mecca that is out of reach? Bakers unite! Drop me a line with suggestions regarding substitutions for high fat products, please. Rescue from my butter substitution blues!

Right now I've got two loaves of pumpkin gingerbread rising in the oven, since healthy and delicious breads seem much safe and easier to attain for me at the moment. If nothing else, they are making my apartment smell delightful. I am excited to share one at a Christmas party this evening, and to sell the other at the Malaysia fundraiser next weekend.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ah, Saturday. The perfect day for sleeping late, and then blending up some smoothies for breakfast. This morning I made a berry smoothie for the Best Husband Ever, and I made a pumpkin smoothie for myself. Mmm.

Pumpkin Smoothie

1/2 cup ice
1/2 cup pumpkin
1/2 cup yogurt (I used Yoplait's fat-free apricot)
a few spoonfuls of applesauce
a dash of maple syrup
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Blend, pour, enjoy!

Friday, December 7, 2007

I have become something of a coffee snob, and my new drink of choice to practice said snobbery over is the extra-dry cappuccino. And by extra-dry, I mean that I want my cup to have two shots of espresso topped by mounds of glorious foam. I love to eat the foam with a spoon and then sip up the shots at the end, which is apparently the Italian style of cappuccino consumption, or so one of my fellow baristas has told me.

Some coffee shops, however, refuse to make an adequate cappuccino, even with explicit instructions. Take today, for example. I went to a local coffee shop to meet with a friend, and I decided to have a cappuccino. After explaining what I meant by "extra-dry" to the barista, I happily browsed through their selection of loose teas until my drink was ready. The beverage she served diffused my happiness. Instead of an extra-dry cappuccino, she made me a latte. Not that a latte is bad, necessarily, but if I had wanted one, I would have ordered one. The photo in this post is actually of the sub-par cappuccino, and as you can see, I have already eaten most of the foam. Sigh.

This is not the first time such a thing has happened to me. Why don't some places understand that a cappuccino is more foam than coffee? Starbucks knows how to make a good cappuccino, and the coffee shop where I work does as well. But now two other major coffee shops in this town have failed the cappuccino test, and some of them more than once. Puah, I say (which is apparently Italian for "pooh"). Puah, indeed.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Thirteen tasks that are on my to-do list...
  1. Make my daily quiet time with God my number one priority.
  2. Make my wonderful husband my number two priority, especially by supporting him more, being more cheerful and less worried/irritated when I'm upset or tired, and cooking him more healthful meals.
  3. Clean the bathroom.
  4. Organize and find photos. Also, print and frame photos for display at the Bear's Brew.
  5. Make pumpkin biscotti (and other goodies) for my church's Malaysia missions fundraiser on December 16th.
  6. Clean and organize my stuff around the apartment (i.e., my desk, my pile o' stuff in the bedroom, etc.).
  7. Write regularly, both fiction and poetry.
  8. Share my NaNoWriMo 2007 novel and begin accumulate feedback and consider how to approach revision.
  9. Finish the books I have started (at the moment I'm working on Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke and Miracles by C.S. Lewis, plus a few other random books of poetry).
  10. Continue the somewhat stagnated name change process.
  11. Gather the necessary supplies to make my own tea mixture.
  12. Put up Christmas lights in the apartment.
  13. Take the time to sit, heal well, and enjoy the season.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

In a little over a week, the church I attend is holding a holiday craft/bake sale to help fund a trip to Malaysia next year. I plan to contribute baked goods both to sell for folks to eat on the spot as well as to buy for gifts, or at least to take away. For this endeavor, today I made my very first batch of scones! I cannot believe how light, fluffy, and utterly delicious these lemon berry babies turned out. Hopefully they will freeze and thaw just as nicely. In fact, they are so good that, as I remarked to the Best Husband Ever a moment ago, I may even like them better than muffins. Who knew that that was possible?

Lemon Berry Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup vanilla yogurt (I used fat-free)
1 egg (I used 1/4 cup Egg Beaters)
1/4 cup applesauce

1 cup berries of your choice (I used a frozen mix)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl, and the wet ingredients in another bowl, leaving the berries to the side for now. Make sure the wet components are well-blended before stirring it into the dry ingredients. Mix until the batter is light and fluffy and the dry ingredients are just moistened. Fold in the berries. Grease a baking sheet (I used Pam's canola oil spray) and dropping heaping tablespoons of batter onto it, spacing the globs o' goodness out by about two inches on all sides. Bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are barely browned. Remove, allow to cool for a few moments, and then -- devour!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I enjoy making soup. To me, the creation of soup feels closely akin to the organic, spontaneous style of abstract expressionist artists like Jackson Pollock. (Incidentally, you should check out this nifty Pollock simulator.) The idea of frolicking through ones pantry and emerging with vegetables and spices and other goodies that, at first thought, might not be combined but somehow meld, at the gentle urging of a well-wielded ladle, into a beautiful and surprising taste revel.

Or something. Sadly, my first attempt at this recipe-less venture resulted in a sloppy and unattractive pot o' mush (which my wonderful husband bravely downed, insisting that it wasn't quite as awful as I declared it). So now I stick with recipes, at least to start off. And I have quite a stash of soup recipes waiting to be tackled.

Today's creation resulted in a gingered carrot soup. I'm not a huge fan of ginger, but the combination sounded intriguing. Plus, who can pass up orange soup? Besides, it meant that I got to use my brand new blender, so I signed on. The original recipe called for one-and-a-half cups of orange juice and one-half cup of fat-free half-and-half. I thought that sounded like too much orange, and I didn't have any half-and-half on hand.

Similarly, I had no crystallized ginger, so I used about one-half of a tablespoon of ginger spice. That was a bit much -- I would recommend one-quarter tablespoon instead. Then again, I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to ginger. I always think I love it, but it is a juggernaut of a taste for me. As a result, when I took my first sips of this soup, I didn't like it. But as I slurped on, the taste grew on me, so that by the time I reached the bottom of the bowl I decided that I like this concoction quite a bit.

Gingered Carrot Soup

1 pound chopped carrots
2 cups chicken broth/base
1/4 tablespoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
juice from one orange
1/2 cup yogurt, divided (I used fat-free vanilla)

In a stock pot, combine the carrots, base, ginger, and cinnamon. Simmer for forty to sixty minutes, or until the carrots are cooked and tender. Transfer the concoction to a blender/food processor. Add the orange juice and 1/4 cup of yogurt. Puree until the mixture is smooth. Serve warm, stirring in the remaining yogurt. This can also be eaten as a cooled gazpacho.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Operation: Granola was a success! It didn't clump as much as I would like (perhaps more honey and less maple syrup next time?) and I would either leave out the raisins or throw them in the oven for a few minutes as well, but overall I'm highly satisfied with my efforts. I ate some with yogurt for breakfast the other day!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

I felt like baking something tonight, but I didn't want to start down the dangerous road of cookie creation. So, after browsing around online for a little while (and wishing that my kitchen was better equipped for making my own teas), I decided to try my hand at granola. I've never made any granola before, so this was a new adventure. Right now I can smell it baking in the oven, filling the apartment with the yummy smell of cinnamon and maple. It will be done in about twenty minutes, and I'm excited to see how it turns out. The last time I checked on it, the oats were still rather soft and soggy. I hope the mixture crisps up!

Cinnamon Maple Granola

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup honey (or substitute -- I used sugar-free maple syrup because I'm a maple fanatic)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups oats
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup raisins

Stir together the applesauce, honey, cinnamon and salt, blending well. Grease a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan and mix the oats and almonds in it. Add the wet mixture mixture and stir, coating the oats and almonds evenly. Toss the whole enchilada into an oven heated to 275 degrees Fahrenheit for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown, stirring every 15 minutes or so. Add the raisins. Cool, stirring occasionally. Store in an airtight container.

On an unrelated note, I apparently have not yet had my fill of marathon challenges. Having read of it at Watermark, there was really nothing left to do but join in on Holidailies. This time around my mission is to post here every day for the month of December. I am excited because this means that a) I will get to learn about new blogs and their keepers, and b) my own blog won't fall neglected by the wayside. At least, that's the hope. Here's to blog-tastic marathons. Cheers!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Well, now.

November 30. The last day of NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo. I can't believe that these simultaneous thirty-day whirlwinds are about to come to a close in two short hours, and already have in other, earlier parts of the world. But most of all, I'm finding it hard to believe that I made it. In thirty days, I wrote over 50,000 new words of fiction and completed a (very rough) first draft. For a month, I posted here daily. So. The question now becomes, was it worth it? Am I glad that I took on these challenges?

In a word, yes.

I am glad for mostly obvious reasons about my participation and success in NaNoWriMo 2007. But I'm also glad that I participated in NaBloPoMo. This is the first time that I have been diligent about my blogging, and I find that I am now more interested in what else is percolating in the blogosphere, what other people are saying and thinking. Is everything out there worthwhile or weighty? Of course not. I mean, I posted a barely cohesive blurb about and, at best, a passable photograph of my dirty kitchen. Whoop dee doo. But even so, I am glad for this adapted view of the internet community, for the fact that I can write the words "internet community" and believe that it exits with only a fair amount of mental scoffing.

So what did I do to celebrate my twin November victories? By finishing up the first draft of my novel to the taste of Moxiberry frozen yogurt with mango, blackberries, and pomegranates (the first time I've ever eaten pomegranate seeds -- they were okay, although not my favorite fruit product) and getting a nifty haircut. The yogurt was a chilly reward on this last day of icy November, but ridiculously delicious and so very healthy to boot. Yum!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thirteen things that I love about the end of November...
  1. The end of NaNoWriMo (500 words to go!).
  2. The end of NaBloPoMo.
  3. Snow.
  4. Leaving Thanksgiving behind.
  5. Christmas decorations.
  6. Holiday craft fairs.
  7. Coffee shops bringing out their holiday flavor lattes (mmm maple...).
  8. The art and sport of speed angeling.
  9. Snuggling up under tons of blankets to keep warm at night.
  10. Christmas cookies.
  11. Christmas cooking.
  12. Christmas in general.
  13. Snow!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

While browsing through today on a quest for a soup recipe that combines kale and black beans (I didn't find any, but did discover a couple of recipes that could be merged in a tasty way), I came across some rather weird recipes. Check out these odd culinary creations!

Do you have any out of the ordinary recipes? I'd love to see some more of these kinds of fun and silly concoctions! My favorite of the above are the Sushi Rolls, although the Dog Food Dip takes a close second since it really does look like dog food (or, I shudder to mention, dog vomit...) in the photographs.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

After getting some minor surgery done today (my first surgical procedure of any kind! anesthesia is fun...), dinner is a quiet and simple affair.

Monday, November 26, 2007

My birthday present for the Best Husband Ever. They are extraordinarily delicious. Chex + chocolate + peanut butter = amazing. Unfortunately, I was in a rush at the grocery store and forgot to grab powdered sugar, so I had to make these with regular granulated white sugar. As a result, the texture is off. But they still are wonderful to my tongue!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

As I have mentioned on here before, I recently started a new job. I now work as a barista for a local coffee shop. And . . . I really enjoy it. There is something very satisfying about making coffee for people and selling them delicious goodies. Plus it is exciting to meet so many new people. I've already heard some wonderful stories. There is a book waiting to be written about that coffee shop, I'm sure. Or perhaps a short story collection. Anyhoo, I'm excited about this new development, even if it is very far outside my logical area of expertise (I have a Master's degree in education), and excited to see what happens with it. Huzzah for coffee-making!

Photo by Stedman, taken during a visit this evening from him and Ed. I gave them pumpkin pie. Mmm.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

One of the things I love most about cooking is that it is a perfectly legitimate excuse to make a mess. I can scatter whole wheat flour across the counter while making pancakes (which I often do) or get cinnamon caked under my fingernails when sprinkling the spice over the top of some muffins, and that's okay! Making a mess is fun, and, in the right circumstances and with the proper cleaning follow-up, quite healthy. Don't believe me? Try taking a hike during the spring or fall -- in the midst of some kind of precipitation is ideal -- and don't try to stay clean or dry, but rather embrace getting your jeans caked in mud up to the knee. It's a wonderful game! So enjoy the mud, and enjoy the lovely mess that often goes hand in hand with culinary creation.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Well. I made it through Thanksgiving without posting anything too Thanksgiving-y. (And in case you take offense at my flagrant disregard for the rules of the English language that I continue to break, just remember that I'm a writer and it must therefore be okay. Expected, even. Yes.) But then I got around to looking at the photos I took yesterday and just could not resist sharing this one of Eddie, my wonderful in-laws' dog, inspecting the turkey as it waits to be de-stuffed. It's so good of him to look out for us, don't you think? He'd probably even be so kind as to discreetly dispose of the bird at the first sign of inadequacy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The cheesecake turned out well, more or less. I think that I may have covered it with tinfoil a little too early because today the foil had tiny holes in it and the top of the cheesecake had gray flecks all over it which my husband guessed were foil remnants. Can warm cheesecake burn holes in tin foil? I'm not sure, but that's the theory I'm going with. So, after we scraped off the top layer, the cheesecake was fairly tasty. My husband's family seemed to like it. His mother said that it tasted like cheesecake without leaving you feeling heavy and sick after eating it. I don't know that it tasted as much like cheesecake as I would like, but it was definitely sweet and light and not bad at all. I'll count this one as a success!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

So. Thanksgiving. It's never been a favorite holiday of mine, although you can't really go wrong with a celebration centered around eating especially tasty food with folks that you love. I suppose the Thanksgiving obsession with football (which I disliked before four years of marching band membership during which I was required to attend all of the high school's football games) and turkey (it's okay, but not fabulous to me).

However, I do like dessert. Specifically, pie. You see, although my favorite baked good to make is the lovely muffin, my favorite baked treat to eat is pie. Mmm. Favorite kinds of pie are apple, with pecan and pumpkin coming in at a close second and third. Mmm. Are you hungry yet? Because all this talk of pie makes my tummy rumble.

The Best Husband Ever and I are spending the holiday with his family. I couldn't decide what dish to bring, however. I wish I felt brave enough to tackle a pie, but I just didn't have it in me. However, I did find this very intriguing recipe for vegetarian Italian cheesecake. I decided to try it.

For the crust, I spied Honey Maid's holiday-themed gingerbread graham crackers at the store and couldn't resist. (By the way, the graham crackers taste okay. If you want graham crackers, get the plain ones, and if you want gingerbread, eat a gingerbread boy. I don't think the combination is necessary or adds anything particularly great to the munching world.) Instead of soy cream cheese and soy sour cream, I used the fat free regular versions of each. I forgot to buy lemon zest and didn't have any on hand, so I just squirted some lemon juice into the food processor (the first time I used the lovely appliance -- how exciting!) and hoped for the best.

"Hoped for the best" -- I would say that sums up my current feelings about this cheesecake quite precisely. My kitchen is filled with the pleasant aroma of baked cheesecake, and I think the cheesecake looks quite beautiful, if not exactly how cheesecake traditionally appears. However, before throwing the thing into my oven, I took a little taste of the uncooked filling mixture and -- it tasted rather bland. Perhaps the taste of the crust, which I found much more pleasant and sweet, will cook into the filling. Or maybe the heat will magically activate the sugar or some hidden secret that will turn this rather average dessert into something amazing and delicious as well as healthy. Only time will tell. The cheesecake is currently setting in the refrigerator, possibly transforming into a paragon of cheesecake, or perhaps just stewing in its own mediocrity. I will wait and hope for the best and be thankful that I live in a society where I have the luxury of playing with my food.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tonight's dinner: delicious homemade black bean burgers with sweet potato fries. I highly recommend this recipe, although I would halve the amount of cumin. I also cut out the hot sauce. My burger tasted great topped with barbecue sauce and a tiny bit of salsa and fat free sour cream. I've been looking forward to this meal for quite some time, and it was almost as good as I expected it to be. My two regrets are that the fries were limp instead of crispy, and that I waited until the last minute and so couldn't find any good quality wheat burger buns in the bakery section of Albertson's at four o'clock in the afternoon. Even in spite of these factors, the meal felt especially cozy in my belly after coming in from the snow.

The snow finally stopped coming down, but some still remains. It was amazingly beautiful and magical yesterday, and lovely even as it melted and turned the streets into treacherous ice sheets. It reminds me of Narnia. I can't wait to put my Christmas lights up!

Monday, November 19, 2007

It's an exciting time here in western Montana. Starting early yesterday afternoon, it began to snow -- and it didn't stop until today, dropping over a foot of accumulation in some places. Right now it is cold and icy and all-around soppy. Not so much fun for driving in, but lovely for settling down with a cozy, home-cooked muffin. If a muffin can in fact be cozy, that is. But I think that it's allowed, and so onward with Muffin Monday!

I had some leftover spaghetti squash in my fridge that was starting to get a little aged. There wasn't quite enough to make a meal of, so I thought it would be interesting to put the stringy squash into a baked item. And what could be more versatile in bridging the baking chasm between sweet and savory than the humble muffin? So into my mixture went the spaghetti squash, along with some cranberries and applesauce. Also, I wanted to use some yogurt but unfortunately had run out of the plain yogurt I typically use for cooking. What I did have was a Costco-sized case of individual Yoplait yogurts in strawberry and peach. I decided on peach (on account that peaches and spaghetti squash are both orange, and must obviously go well together on the palate), and I could not discern any difference.

The result was a very bready muffin, due more to the fact that I used 2 cups of whole wheat flour as opposed to half wheat flour and half white or all-purpose flour. But the muffin was also moist and filling, and it left me feeling that I had eaten something good but hearty. Which is exactly what I was after on this snowy not-quite-winter's day.

Snow Day Squash Muffins

2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 cup Yoplait fat free peach yogurt
1 cup applesauce
1/4 cup sugar free maple syrup
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp plus a little baking powder

1 cup fresh spaghetti squash
1 handful cranberries (I used frozen)
cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Stir the dry ingredients together. (Leave the squash, cranberries, cinnamon, and nutmeg for later.) In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Mix well. Combine the two bowls and stir. As the batter smooths, mix in the squash, followed by the cranberries. Add the nutmeg and cinnamon. Stir until smooth. Scoop the batter into a greased muffin tin (I used canola oil cooking spray). Sprinkle the tops of the muffins lightly with cinnamon. Bake for 20 minutes, adding approximately 5 minutes if you are using a six-muffin tin. If you can stab a muffin with a fork and have the tongs come out mostly clean, your muffins are done!. Cool and remove muffins. Makes 6-12 muffins, depending on your tin of choice. A slather of honey on this muffins would not be amiss.