Sunday, December 29, 2013

Pumpkin-Ginger-Chocolate Muffins....or Oh, The Hypocrisy!


Remember this post?  In which I complain about eating too much and feeling crummy?  In which I resolve to keep foods simple and close to the source?

Yeah.  That lasted three days.  Less than that, actually.  But that's neither here nor there.

I'm a hypocritical idealist.  Sue me.  I see the world in a certain, simple way...and figure that it's a matter of a practical course of action that will get me there.  But reality has its own ways and means as well.

Aaah well, there's always tomorrow to get on board with the right kind of eating.  Whatever that means, really.

So.  The husband took down the Christmas tree today and my kids began to clear out the holiday detritus.  And what's good for the (Ryan) goslings is good for the goose.  My kitchen pantries are in need of the same.

Hence, these muffins I made today.

With the holidays come holiday baking and cooking.  With all that come extra ingredients...chocolate chips, nuts and other sundry odds and ends.

When Kirby planned the meal for today, and put regular ol' Pumpkin Muffins on the menu...I saw a golden opportunity.  As luck/fate/my own damned inefficiency would have it, I had no ground ginger in the pantry.  But...I did have a three-inch leftover knob of fresh ginger left over from the beef pho I'd made the night before.  Ha!

And, I also had a half-bag of mini chocolate chips.  Double ha!

I also have various nuts in my freezer and I was two seconds away from adding a handful when I remembered that my husband "prefers not to have nuts added to baked goods".  So I left them out (this time...I found out later, to my chagrin, that he would have been fine had I added some pecans - jerk).

I used the last bag of pumpkin purée in the freezer (seems like just yesterday...or September...when I was baking all those pumpkin pieces for processing).  It also occurs to me as I type this RIGHT NOW that any kind of puréed vegetable might work here.  Squash, definitely.  Carrot, maybe.  Rutabaga?  Hmmm.  And the extras?  You are only limited by what pantry items you need to get rid of...except for pinto beans or similar.  That, I'm afraid, I cannot condone.  Shredded coconut?  Wheat germ?  Flax seed?  Raisins?  Canned pineapple, drained?  Get crazy!

I know I was all on my high horse a couple of days ago about eating right and eating simple...and I know, I know.  You're right.  Baked sweets does not constitute eating right.

Fine.  I eat my words.  And my muffin.

NEW FEATURE: Printable Recipe Here

Thursday, December 26, 2013

God Bless Us Everyone!

A full 24+ hours has eclipsed since Christmas Day, and I am now ready to recap the Cratchit Christmas Dinner.

I feel that post-holiday letdown moreso this year than any other...and it definitely has less to do with the lack of presents under the Christmas tree and more to do with no big holiday menus to plan for and execute.

Anyway, pictures and commentary and highlights:

It was a rather quiet Christmas, with the Nelson 5 and my parents.  Going off of context clues in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the menu consisted of roast goose, mashed potatoes, applesauce, sage and onion stuffing, and a Christmas pudding.  The point was to keep it simple and sparse.

Oh yeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaah.

This is what a Christmas Pudding looks like.  I made it the Friday before Christmas day...but I read recipes that talked about keeping it in a cool, dry place for up to a year.

Whaaaaaaaaa...?  That's a ServSafe violation if ever I saw one.

But, that's why the recipes also say to sprinkle brandy on the pudding every 7-10 days.  It's so damned well-preserved that it won't spoil without serious negligence.

As you can see, setting the ambiance was everything.  Kirby made these place cards (glue job done by Peanut, I think, though), while I printed and prepared seven copies of Act 1, Scene 8 from the play adaptation of A Christmas Carol...for a Reader's Theater performance just before dinner.

Then, my mom brought chestnuts.  As it turns out, there's several ways to prepare them - roast 'em, boil 'em, grill 'em...

For the first attempt, we opted for microwaving them.  Bad idea.

They burn rather quickly.  As you can see. And this picture was taken about 20 seconds after the entire micro was smoking.  Good thing temperatures had risen into the thirties from the negatives of the days previous.  It wasn't nearly as cold in my house when we had to open up the windows.

Plan B.  Using my mom's old-school popcorn popper.  Within 10 minutes, we had roasted them enough to split the skins easily.

Frankly, I was not impressed by the taste of a whole chestnut...kind of sweet, kind of tough.  I see why people choose to chop them or puree them.

Oh yeah - the photo op moment right here.  When several of us gather around the "open fire" to "roast" our chestnuts.  It was our hope to make Mel Torme and Nat King Cole proud.

I must say, the simplicity of the meal made Christmas morning prep work easy-peasy.  I ordered a pre-roasted goose and I just needed to warm it in the oven for about an hour.  The stuffing I made the day before and that just needed about 45 minutes in the oven (by the way, a moister stuffing WITH oysters for dear old Dad...see this post here about the last time I served my father stuffing).  The applesauce I'd done in the crockpot the day before, thus just needed to be warmed in the morning.  By the way, I could not resist a little I added
a bag of fresh cranberries.

I know the picture is small, but this is what our dinner table looked like. Stuffing, potatoes, goose, applesauce, and a loaf of bread (from front to back).

After the meal, which, by the way, we did not feel incredibly stuffed, we watched the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol.

Then, it was time for the Christmas pudding...which I forgot to warm up in the steamer.  We settled for nuking it in the now chestnut smoke-free microwave and drizzling caramel sauce over it.  It was okay.  I will not be making and eating it again soon.  It's heavy, raisiny, and bready.  The kiddos could hardly get one bite down - too alcohol-tasting, they said.  The best part, though, of the pudding was setting it on fire.  Basically, I warmed a ladleful of whiskey, then I held an open flame to the edge and it caught instantly.  Pouring it over the pudding spread the blue flame out in a cool, surreal kind of way.

It was nice and quiet and relatively uneventful.  A real blessing.

Going to be hard to top this Christmas Dinner next year, I tell ya.  In fact, I'm sure it will have to involve costumes.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Time to Refocus

Okay.  I know I've got a Cratchit Christmas Dinner to recap and illustrate for you here, and I have every intention of doing so.

But, first...something that's on my mind: food.

You're shocked, yes?

I happen to be on a short hiatus from school and work, and I admit, I have the tiniest desire to be working or studying right now.  I mean, someone to crack the whip at my back.  It is all so easy to fall into a lifestyle of sloth during this holiday season.

I spent last weekend at my in-laws house.  They live in the country + painful below-zero temps = no exercise.  There's a fair amount of sitting on the couch, watching hunting shows or basketball games.  I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, preparing the evening meals (and by golly, I was glad to do it).  Also, my husband's mom firmly believes in three hearty, plentiful meals a day...hard to get my crowd excited about stuffed pork loin when they've just gorged on ham balls and cheesy potatoes.

Thus, coming into today's Christmas dinner, we were already feeling sickly and gluttonous.  The sparse Cratchit theme was actually brilliant, as we didn't terribly overdo our eating.

But.  I still felt rather queaseous at various moments during the day.  And I exercised my digestive and excretory systems more than I probably should have.  I felt lazy, slothful, and fat...and well, I still feel that way, to be honest.

So...what to do now?  The big feasting is done, the New Year (with its Resolution pressure) is looming on the horizon, and I'm definitely feeling the urge to act my health act together.

The exercise thing will resolve itself.  I hope.  Or it won't, and that will be a new problem I will deal with later.  Right now, I'm thinking about food.  I have not been overly mindful over the last several weeks (since before Thanksgiving, really) of calories, fat, sodium, etc. 

And I think it's all catching up with me.  Hence, the name of today's post.  Time to refocus.  Time to keep food and meals as simple and close to the source as possible.

For example, I didn't buy any cereal this week.  It's easy, yes, but it's carby, it's processed, it consists of ingredients masterminded in a chemistry lab.  I bought an extra dozen of eggs instead.  Scrambled eggs with a little hot sauce or salsa is easy...and I know where it came from.

Just need to refocus, that's all.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Post Related to Neither Food Nor Christmas

My thermometer reads -16.  That is staying-inside-the-house weather, people. 

Today will be a day for cleaning house, catching up on laundry, prepping for tomorrow's dinner, and watching Christmas movies (today will be "Grinch" and "It's a Wonderful Life", tomorrow "A Christmas Carol").

And speaking of movies, I took my three kids to "The Hobbit" last night.  In 3D.  Watching movies "based on" books I absolutely love is usually painful for me.  For example, Keira Knightley's version of Pride and Prejudice was horrid, but the 1996 Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version is wonderfully spot-on.  The Harry Potter movies give me fits, and even the 'Lord of the Rings' series is missing key scenes from the books.

However, I keep going to these movies, so the discrepancies must not be enough to ruin the experience.

I am still trying to sort out how I feel about the certain "mistakes" in this film.  Usually, I need a couple of days to work through this.  For example, Legolas was not mentioned in the 'Hobbit' book.  At all.  Yes, the dwarves and Bilbo were in his kingdom, but to my knowledge, Legolas was never referred to.  However, for nostalgia's sake (or the same reason the first Bilbo and Elijah Wood/Frodo had brief cameos in the first Hobbit film), Legolas was written into the movie script.  I can forgive that, because, really, it could/would make sense that he'd be there.  Then, we have an Elvish romance.  But wait, it evolves quickly into a three-way Elf-Elf-Dwarf love triangle.


This all happens, by the way, over the course of a day, maybe?  Before the romance really has a chance to become a problem, Bilbo is stuffing the Dwarves into barrels and sending them off down the river.  Which did happen in the book, but Bilbo managed to seal the barrels properly, so that their journey would be uneventful and safe.  Unlike in the movie, where the barrels were not sealed...and there was a fair goodly amount of splashing going on (but no sinking, mind).  Then, because moviegoers crave action or something, a huge action-packed sequence breaks out in which the Elves learn of the Dwarves' river escape and begin pursuit...but the Dwarves are also being hunted by Orcs...who happen to arrive on the scene at the same time.  You would think: "Hm. Dwarves.  Fish in a barrel.  No weapons, no means to hide."  Wrong.  Lady Luck happens to be on the Dwarves' side as various sticks, rocks, axes, polearms come into their hands at certain opportune moments.  And after 25 minutes of hack-and-slash, the Dwarves make it safely out of the clutches of both Elf and Orc.

I wonder if it's a sad reflection of our society today that we can't have boring, secure river escape sequences...we've got to make them as thrilling and hair-raisingly action-packed as possible.  Seems like everything in movies these days must be so fraught with close to death.  Ugh.  Seems morbid to me.

I guess I need to go see Anchorman 2 next or something.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Dinner #1 in Pictures

Two days without my Internets.  While I was at the in-laws.  It was rough.

The in-laws let me be in charge of menus for the Saturday and Sunday night dinners, and I had two very willing sous chefs at my disposal (my brother#1-in-law and his wife).  The challenge was to class it up a little, but keep the foods recognizable for my father and mother and brother#3-in-law.


A Triple-Pork Pork Loin... pork stuffed with ground pork, spinach, apples, and mushrooms, and then wrapped in prosciutto.

Standard Au Gratin potatoes (I was heavy-handed on the cayenne.  I won't apologize for it.)

The Chocolate Silk Tart.  As you can see, I scored out eight slices.  I should have done 16.  Very rich. 

Finished pork loin with its unsightly marks from its time in bondage.

You can tell here that I didn't quite butterfly my loin right...the bottom is too thick.  But still...tasted delicious and not dry at all.

All this above made up Saturday's dinner, which consisted of 17 people.  I also prepared a simple green salad with cranberries, pecans, and blue cheese.  Oh, and a quick green bean sauteed with bacon and onions rounded out the meal.

Sunday's dinner was simpler: an Antipasto Platter, Fettuccine with Bolognese, Garlic Naan (not Italian, but hey!), and a Caesar salad.

Also, between the bottles of wine we brought and the wine my brother and sister-in-law brought...we had nearly a case.  I don't think we drank them all, but we were close.

Next up: an appetizer lunch with some friends tomorrow and the Tiny Tim Christmas Day Dinner!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Don't Go Out To Eat With Me. Period.

Because I will ruin your dining experience, likely.

Unless that's what you're looking that case, I'm free most evenings of the week and willing to drive just about anywhere.

You all know I'm in my 6th term (or, penultimate, if you're looking to boost vocab) of culinary school...and since week two of the entire program, people have been asking me if it's difficult to eat out because I can't helping critiquing.  And I've usually responded in the affirmative because yeah, knowing what I know about the foodservice industry...? I know all the shortcuts.  I know that lots of people around here aren't terribly discerning in their tastes...and lots of food-type products get passed off as 'gourmet'.

Case in point, my husband's pork roast lunch.

The pork slices were juicy, but otherwise rather flavorless, which made me wonder if it were pre-prepared or what.  The mashed potatoes, although they had green flecks of something in them, tasted like instant.  The stuffing was mushy and moist (it might have been homemade), and the corn was the straight-up gold kernel standard from a can.  And half the plate was covered in a brown gravy...beef gravy.  BEEF. 

Of course, my husband was despondent after I ripped his lunch apart...but he managed to finish it anyway. 

And I don't know what is more head-shaking...the fact that the restaurant serves this...or that people keep ordering it (in the course of our time there, waitresses delivered the pork roast lunch four times).

I suppose this is just one of the minor unpleasantnesses of being in the industry.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Stockpile Recipes, Not Arms

I can hardly resist the magazine aisle at any grocery store/Walmart/gas station.  The explosion in culinary magazines available to everyday readers like me is pretty exciting stuff.

Whole magazines devoted to wine.  To wine with food.  To cookies.  To healthy eating.  To gluten-free eating.  And on and on and on.  Invariably, I leaf through the pages, drool over the food photography, read the articles and tear out any recipes it was likely I'd try.

Erm.  Let me clarify.  I BUY the magazine and take it home first...and then do all that I listed above.  I do not, as a habit, vandalize periodicals I have not paid for.

Sometime earlier this summer, I'd purchased a magazine titled Eating Well.  And I'd clipped out this recipe:

Strawberry-Rhubarb Quinoa Pudding

I mean, I like strawberry and I like quinoa.  AND - I have a half-bag of it in the pantry that I need to use.

What better time to try it, yes?  I knew you'd agree with me.

It doesn't get much more simpler than this.  Boil water, fruit (frozen, straight outta da bag), quinoa, cinnamon, and salt...then reduce to a simmer.  Cover, let sit for about 20 minutes.  Then, add sugar and zest (I didn't have, so I used a splash of juice).  In a separate bowl, whisk the cornstarch and 1/4 cup of water together and mix that into the hot mixture.  Cook for another 2 - 3 minutes until it really thickens up.

Then, pour into into small cups/dishes and chill for an hour.  Done and done.

I didn't do the yogurt topping.  I opted instead to do a quick whipped cream.

The youngest boy really liked it, and he is by far the pickiest kid in the family.  Everyone else cleaned their bowls...and that's always a good sign.  The fruit cooked down into mush, but the flavor was wonderful, and I couldn't help thinking about other fruit-flavor combos to test in the future.  After reading some of the recipe reviews online, I will cut the sugar in half the next time I try this.

This was the picture that went with the recipe in the Eating Well magazine.  Obviously they can pay for food stylists and the like.

Yeah.  And this how the photography works at my house.  My house is so poorly-lit, it's not even funny.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Blur That Is December

November is over (okay, alright, you sticklers, it's been over for two days now), and I shall take today's blog opportunity to recap the month.

Another NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is in the books, and I wrote another novel.  Every year I try to write in a different genre (Mainstream, Chick Lit (x2), Young Adult) and for 2013, I tried my hand at a murder mystery.  Since I'm not much of a murder mystery reader, it was rather difficult to write.  However, it is done, and I think it came out a little like a Janet Evanovich hybrid or something.  I reckon I ought to begin editing it soon.

It's also time to catch up on my reading as well.  Right now, I am working on A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and I've got Bram Stoker's Dracula and Shelley's Frankenstein on the list next (I've just recently watched the movie Van Helsing, can you tell?).

Food-wise, the Christmas menu planning is well underway.  For those tuning into to TTOW, BF for the 1st time, our family (and my parents) choose a theme every year for the Christmas Day meal.  We've done this for the last three years, and our themes have included: Mediterranean, Hawaiian, and Cajun.

This year, we're taking a page out of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and recreating the Cratchits' Christmas Eve far, it's looking like this:

Roast Goose (pheasants if goose cannot be effectively procured)
Mashed Potatoes
Sage and Onion Stuffing
Christmas/Plum Pudding

It's a Tiny Tim Christmas!!  They didn't have much...but after all, they had each other!

God Bless Us Everyone.