Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in Review

On New Year's Eve, I thought I would do a quick recap of the highlights of 2009, while looking forward to kicking of 2010!

1Started gradschool.  I loved my Clinical Psychology Program at Roosevelt.  Why did I ever leave school?  I would leave the house at 7:30 in the morning for work and not return from class until almost 10pm and would be grinning from ear to ear.  Learning is fun.

2.  Trip to Portland and Willamette Valley.  We went to visit my cousin, her husband and new baby a nd had a wonderful time.  Spent a day wine tasting and spent time in Powell's, the country's largest bookstore.  Heaven!

3.  Return to Torre a Cona.  Torre a Cona, as a wedding present, gave us a free week to spend there this summer.  This time it was just Jason and I!  The property was pretty much desserted, and I got to spend my dream day of staying on the property, lounging by the pool and having a lunch of meats, cheeses and wines.  We did some hiking in the countryside and found ourselves in some amazing out of the way places and had a couple of incredible lunches as a result.  Very relaxing and wonderful.  I miss it already.

4.  Pickling.  I discovered a passion for pickling.  Just refridgerator pickles.  However, this Christmas brought me all the acoutrements for hot water canning.  Can't wait until summer 2010!

5.  Wisconsin trip to Devil's Lake and Taliesin.  Jason and I spent a lovely weekend alone near the Dells.  We hiked, went to Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin home and ate at a true Wisconsin Supper Club!  We love Wisconsin.

6.  Trip to Denver.  More family fun.  Got to see my aunt, uncle, both cousins and their spouses and kids.  It was a birthday bash weekend, lots of fun and got to catch up with old college friends!

7.  Drop out of grad school.  This was hard for me.  But, I found the path that perhaps I had been seeking all along.  Ironically I found it through my advisor at Roosevelt's mistake.  But I decided to apply for School Psychology programs.  Testing, stats and summers off!  Sounds ideal.  Unfortunately, Roosevelt doesn't have a program so I'm taking a break and applying at 3 schools in Chicago.  If I'm accepted I'll be starting Fall 2010.

8.  Turn off the TV.  The big experiment continues.  August 18 we cancelled the cable and as a result get no television in our house.  It's been pretty awesome.  I cook more than ever, read more books this fall than usual.  We're going to keep it going for 2010.

9.  Running.  I found myself a running partner and embraced running whole-heartedly.  This lasted until the weather turned on me and I had to give it up.  I want it back. 

10.  Char and Chris' wedding.  My younger sister-in-law got married in a beautiful ceremony in Hyde Park.  There was also the insurance wedding earlier in the summer, so it was a summer full of celebrations!

11.  Brew-Ha-Ha.  Jason's first annual weekend brewery tour in Wisconsin.  We stayed near Devil's Lake in cabins with 6 other couples, a couple of babies and had a blast!  There are plans for a one-day local brew-ha-ha late this winter, early spring .

12.  Food blogging.  I've been trying to do more with my blogging and really trying to record all of my recipe attempts.  It has definitely been the fall of the soups and with my new immersion blender, that should continue. 

13.  Jason's 40th Birthday!  His birthday fell on a Saturday so it was a whole weekend of celebrating.  We had our families over the morning of his birthday for a wonderful pancake breakfast.  He got lots of fun gifts, including a bottle of Fontodi Flaccianello from me!  That night was spent with the two of us having dinner at Bon Soiree.  We did the 6 course Saturday underground dining experience and loved it.  The following day our friends all joined us at a local bar to have lunch, watch the Bears and sing happy birthday one more time. 

14.  The Gratitude Project.  I spend a good portion of 2009 being really dissatisfied, especially regarding material matters.  It was an ugly feeling and was making me an ugly person.  From Halloween to Thanksgiving I tried to come up with something to be grateful for everyday.  While I didn't blog daily as intended, I did take a long, hard look at my life, and put in some serious time reflecting on what is truly important to me.  It is an ongoing process but I have started to turn my bad attitude around.

15.  Christmas Eve.  Our 4th annual hosting of Christmas Eve.  It was a complete success.  Good food, good family, good presents and fun!

Now, it's the morning of New Years Eve.  I'm still in my pajamas, motivating to get dressed.  No New Year's trip out of town so instead the friends are all gathering at one person's house for a potluck and celebration.  My plan is to stay sober and wake up starting my new year not hungover!

My Resolutions so far?
1.  To play piano again
2.  To lose 15 pounds

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!!!!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cauliflower Puree Soup

After the decadence of the holidays, it's time to get back to some normal eating and cooking!  I recently discovered the magazine La Cucina Italiana, and a good friend was kind enough to give me a subscription for Christmas!

I adapted this recipe from one I found in the current edition.  It also gave me a second time to use my new Immersion Blender which I got in the Family Christmas Secret Santa Exchange!

I was hoping to make a nice, healthy vegetable based soup.  And while it is primarily vegetable, overall I would use much less butter than the recipe called for.  I might actually just sautee the leeks in only oil.  And the bacon is just an optional garnishment to sprinkle on top.  The recipe I got my inspiration from actually used veal.

CAULIFLOWER PUREE SOUP

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 of a very large onion sliced thinly (about 1 - 1 1/2 cups)
1 head cauliflower cut into small florettes (approximately 1 lb)
1/2 lb yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced into 1 in. pieces (approximately 1/2 lb)
3 1/2 Tbsp butter, divided
3 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 leek, white and yellow parts chopped
2 slices of bacon diced
salt and pepper to taste

In a large stock pot heat the olive oil on medium heat, add the onions, lower the heat to med-low and sautee for about 5 minutes or until they are soft

Add the cauliflower, potatoes a healthy pinch of salt and 2 Tbsp of the butter.  Cook for about 10 minutes.

Add 2 cups of broth, bring to a boil and simmer on low, covered for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, start the leeks and bacon.  In one pan, heat the remaining 1 1/2 Tbsp butter over medium heat and sautee the leeks for about 15 minutes.

**again, in the future I would not use this much butter

After 15 minutes, add 1 1/2 cups of stock and a dash of salt and simmer on low for another 15 minutes.

In a separate pan cook the diced bacon on med-low until it is nice and crispy. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

Drain the cooking liquid from the leeks into the soup pot and reserve the leeks.

Remove the soup from the heat and with an immersion blender puree the soup.  Test the consistency, you can always add more stock or water to thin out the soup if you like, but I found this consistency perfect.

**if you do not have an immersion blender, puree in batches in a blender

Ladle soup into bowls and top with leeks, bacon and some freshly ground black pepper

Merry (Molecular Gastronomy) Christmas!!!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.  I enjoyed myself immensely and the long weekend felt truly like a break.  We saw family and friends, ate well, opened wonderful presents and started our foray into Molecular Gastronomy!

The main component to Jason's Christmas gift this year was a Molecular Gastronomy Starter Kit from ThinkGeek.com.  It was true inspiration and turned out to be one of the best gifts I have given him!  We spent Saturday afternoon and evening at our friend Nancy's house familiarizing ourselves with the kit and trying out our first recipes!  Spherification was a total success, gelification a strong start. 

First up, prepping Capri Sun Spheres!


  
Capri Sun



Then a Green Juice Gelee:




Next a Sparkling Wine Semi-Gel (didn't quite turn out)



Time to make the spheres!  Capri Sun mixed with sodium alginate and allowed to rest for about 30 minutes.  Then dispensed with a pipette into a bath of calcium salt and  water, then rinsed in a pure water bath. 



The green gelee formed with Agar-Agar as well as another gelee we made with some leftover Capri Sun.  We topped them off with a few capri sun pearls, or caviar.




Quite an interesting day!  I think we will be adding a whole new twist to our cooking!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Our Fourth Annual Christmas Eve went off without a hitch.  Both families present and accounted for, including the newest brother-in-law!

On the menu:

Roasted Carrots and Parsnips with Tarragon

Braised Swiss Chard

Rotolo

Braised Pork in the Black Rooster

Delicious!  We sipped on a Bisol Prosecco di Vadobbiadene before dinner while snacking on shrimp and my mom's famous mushroom pate.

With dinner we had a few reds, most notably a Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Desserts consisted of mini cheesecakes with raspberry and cranberry coulis, a variety of cookies and a cheese plate, all compliments of the sister-in-laws.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Eve Eve

Ever since Jason and I started hosting Christmas Eve dinner, we have set aside Christmas Eve Eve as date night.  It started the first year because we had been doing so much work and planning and cleaning and really needed to get out of the house, take a deep breath and relax with eachother before the onslaught.

The last 3 years we have had our Christmas Eve Eve date night dinner at Think, a BYOB restaurant on the edge between Bucktown and Logan Square.  We've had many dinners there and always a lovely time and have always enjoyed deciding what wine will be the special wine for the year.

Unfortunately, Think closed recently and we were forced to rethink our date location.  We decided to go with Magnolia, a great neighborhood restaurant in Uptown.  The website doesn't do them justice and unfortunately I didn't take any photos.  But the interior is simple and warm, with exposed brick and beamed ceilings and minimimalist photos on the walls. 

As an appetizer we split the mussels which were delicious.  Some of the largest mussels I've had in a long time, served in the proverbial white wine and fennel sauce with a baguette.

For an entree we split the grilled beef tenderloin which was topped with braised short ribs, served over spinach with a couple of ricotta dumplings on the side.  It was fantastic.  The idea of the beef tenderloin short rib combo threw me in theory but worked perfectly in actuality.  The short ribs were used sparingly on top of the tenderloin and added a touch of sweetness and an interesting textural contrast.

To drink we brought the 2002 Concha y Toro Don Melchor that I had given Jason for Christmas about 3 years ago.


A perfect Christmas Eve Eve to get us in the Christmas spirit.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas is coming...



I have almost completed my most dreaded of holiday tasks.  Shopping. 

It's not that I don't like giving gifts.  There are few better feelings than knowing you got something for someone that they are really, really, really going to enjoy.  And it's not really the money.  We are not extravagant gift givers, and stick to reasonable budgets. 

It's just the hoopla.  The crowds, the dark, and mostly, the cold.

This year I did things differently.  I whole-heartedly embraced the on-line shopping.  It has changed my world.  Presents arriving at my door days and sometimes weeks before Christmas Day.  In a moment of weakness earlier in the year I signed up for "Prime" shipping at Amazon.  For a flat yearly fee I receive free 2-day shipping on most products.  Money well spent!

And people are getting some very cool presents this year.  I would like to divulge, but am afraid someone might come snooping on my blog :-)  I am most excited for Jason's gifts, I don't think he has any idea what he is getting!

Friday, December 11, 2009

TZATZIKI

TZATZIKI


1 package greek yogurt
1 cucumber peeled, seeded and diced
1 clove garlic
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Dill (use fresh if possible, if not substitute dried)
Black pepper

Salt the cucumbers and set over a colander. This will draw out some of the liquid to prevent the sauce from becoming too watery

After about 20 minutes, pat dry the cucmber and add to a food processor with the garlic, lemon and some black pepper and dill.

Process and then mix into the yogurt. Chill.

This sauce is best made in the summer with fresh herbs but it works even in the dead of winter!

Turkey Burgers

I'm not much of a Thanksgiving meal fan, so I didn't burn myself out on turkey.

My friend Michelle had passed along to me her turkey burger recipe and I had been wanting to try something similar.  I combined her used of dry onion soup mix with a few other flavors and am really happy with the result!  It's an easy week night meal and provides me with some protein for a few days!

TURKEY BURGERS

1 lb ground turkey meat
1 package dry onion soup mix
Worstershire sauce
3 oz (approximately) feta crumbled
Garlic powder
salt and pepper

Put the turkey in a big bowl.  Add the onion soup mix, a dash or two of worstershire, a few sprinkles of onion powder, the crumbled feta and some salt and pepper.  Mix well, form into patties and grill on a stove top grill pan.

I don't usually cook meat, but I would say I cooked them about 5 minutes on each side? 

The burgers were tasty!  I topped mine with some homemade tzatziki sauce for an extra kick!

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

I hadn't cooked quinoa in awhile and, as you know, love pomegranates.  I used a few recipes from the blog Closet Cooking as inspiration.  I made a big batch of this on Monday night which we ate as a side all week!

I also made my lentil and sausage soup which was even better than I had remembered.  I was intent on having food prepared for the whole week and we didn't have to eat out once (except for the sushi dinner we chose to have on Wednesday!)

QUINOA SALAD WITH ROASTED VEGETABLES AND POMEGRANATE VINAIGRETTE

1 eggplant
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 bulb fennel
2 red peppers
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup walnuts
3 oz (or so) feta
1 cup quinoa
1/4 cup pomegranate vinaigrette

Preheat the oven to 400.

Cut up the eggplant into cubes, salt generously and set aside in a colander to drain or about 20 minutes (by salting and draining the eggplant, you remove some of the bitter taste eggplant can have)

Stick the red peppers on a baking sheet lined with tin foil.  But in the oven under the broiler and turn every few minutes until all sides are blackened.  Take our, put in a covered bowl and let sit until the peppers have cooled enough to handle and the skins peel off easily.  Chop the peppers into 1 inch pieces.

Rinse and pat dry the eggplant.  Put in a baking dish and toss with some olive oil and the cumin, paprika and cinnamon.

Cut the fennel into slices, put the slices in another baking dish and toss with a little olive oil.

Roast the vegetables in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime cook the quinoa according to the directions on the package.

But the quinoa in a bowl.  Add the roasted eggplant, fennel, red peppers, walnuts, pomegranate seeds and feta and drizzle with the pomegranate vinaigrette.

I found that this salad was fine the night I made it but incredible the several days following!  J ate his room temperature, I heated mine up in the microwave before eating.  Delicious!

Pomegranate Vinaigrette

I saw this recipe on Closet Cooking and knew I needed to make it for myself.  It is a 2 step process, fisrt the pomegranate molasses, then the vinaigrette.

POMEGRANATE MOLASSES

1 cup pomegranate juice (I used POM)
1/8 cup sugar
1 splash lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and cook about 40 minutes, until it is the consistency of a thick syrup.  The recipe I followed was actually double the amounts I used, so in the future I wouldn't cook it quite as long as it got a little too thick.

Remember, that it will continue to thicken as it cools, so don't think it needs to be cooked to molasses consistency, it can still be a little thin.

POMEGRANATE VINAIGRETTE

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything in a small jar or bowl

**optional - you can add a small clove of garlic grated, but I omitted it

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Braised Pork in the "Black Rooster" (Brasato di Maiale Nero)

Even without tv we still will pop onto hulu or some other website to catch a show or two.  One night, I got home to find Jason watching "Molto Mario", Batali's show.  We watched him make this pork dish, a pork roast braised in red wine sauce alongside roasted butternut squash in agrodolce and knew we had to make it one day.

We have revived our Friday cooking sessions this fall and today we decided to try this dish.  It was incredible.  Instead of the butternut squash, we substituted spaghetti squash (which I love) and added a side of braised chard.  We substituted bacon for the pancetta and made a roast about half the size of what he did on the show. 

The dish was incredible!  Along with the rotolo, we now have decided on our Christmas eve dinner!

BRAISED PORK IN THE BLACK ROOSTER (Brasato in Maiale Nero)

One 2 pound pork roast, rolled and tied
2 teaspoons salt
several fresh sage leaves
2 slices of bacon
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 cup parsley leaves
Olive oil
2 cups dry red wine (we used a tempranillo, chianti would also be perfect)
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
black pepper

First tie up the roast (we use Food Loops which are easy and can be washed and reused)
Slide sage leaves under the loops all the way across the roast


Chop up the bacon, parsley and garlic together until it becomes the consistency of a paste.  Add a splash of olive oil if you need it but we didn't use more than a teaspoon.

In a large dutch oven, cook the bacon paste in a little bit of olive oil until it essentially melts.

Then, brown the roast in the mixture on all sides
 

Add 1 cup of the red wine, bring to a boil and reduce.  Add the remaining 1 cup of wine and the tomatoes and bring to a boil

Cover the pot, lower to a simmer and cook about 2 hours.  When finished cooking, pull out the roast to let rest, turn up the heat on the pot and reduce the braising liquid.
Remove the string and sage leaves from the roast.  Serve cut into slices and doused with the sauce!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Rotolo

Greetings!  I've been remiss since Thanksgiving.  I have to say I have been doing a lot of cooking. 

The day after Thanksgiving we had a great group of friends over.  Due to the nature of J's job, he gets a lot of presents at this time of year.  Usually in the form of cash or gift cards.  This season, we received something new, fresh pasta!  J was given 4 bags of ravioli (2 pumpkin and 2 spinach and sausage) and something I had never seen before, a Rotolo.


rotolo before adding sauce on top and baking

In this form, a rotolo is a stuffed pasta roll.  Three types of pasta - plain, tomato and spinach - in a large sheet, layered with mozzarella, ricotta and spinach and rolled into a log, almost like the pre-cooked polenta logs you can buy in the store, but larger. 

To serve, spread a baking dish with a thin layer of red sauce (we just used a store bought arrabiata), slice the rotolo, lay the slices in the dish and add more sauce on top and around the slices.  Put in a 350 degree oven and cook for about 20-25 minutes.

We served with sauteed spinach and roasted cauliflower.  Add in a couple of bottles of wine and a side of 6 friends and 3 kids and you have the perfect way to recover after Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

THANKSGIVING

I know I declared my intention to write something I am grateful for daily, which didn't really happen.  However, it was a good exercise leading up to the ultimate day of thanks giving!

I have so much to be grateful for.  A wonderful husband, amazing friends, abundant family, all the things that can be too easily overlooked on a day to day basis.

Today I am also thankful that my husband makes me delicious pancake breakfasts!  I am thankful I have my health and have started running.  I am thankful my parents made music lessons a priority and that I have started playing the piano again.

And today especially, I am thankful for mushroom pate and wontons!  The thanksgiving meal isn't really my style, but the appetizers surely are.  Non-traditional?  Yes.  Delicious?  Absolutely. 

Now off to the gym for a quick run to burn off some of the pancakes before digging in to the thanksgiving appetizers!


HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Raw Creamy Celery Soup

In sticking with my new found resolution for weight loss and pursuit of overall health I had a nice polenta square with ragu with some leftover salad for lunch and decided to do a raw dinner after a run on the treadmill at the gym. 

P.S.  not having tv at home does make going to the gym more inviting.  I got to watch the Biggest Loser!  And if that won't inspire you to run, I don't know what will....

I came across this recipe on the Raw Epicurean website and tweaked the ingredients and portion size just a bit.  You need the juicer and blender, although the RawEpicurean site says instead of juicing the celery you can remove the fibrous strings in the celery by hand and just blend. 

RAW CREAMY CELERY SOUP

1/2 cup celery juice
1/2 avocado pitted
1/2 cup water
1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp agave
Sea salt and pepper to taste

After juicing the celery, add all ingredients to the blender.  Blend until smooth and creamy.  Refrigerate prior to serving.  Garnish with celery leaves, parsley leaves or fresh chopped celery.

I enjoyed this although it wasn't as creamy as I would have liked.  I might cut the water a little bit next time.  The original recipe called for the addition of either red onion or shallot but raw onion sometimes gives me a headache so I eliminated it.  I might instead add a little heat in the form of cayenne or hot sauce. 

Turkey Trot!

My friend Angie and I have been "virtually" running together.  Talking about running, motivating eachother from across the country.  We decided to bag the half marathon in January (my training in the winter simply was not going to happen) but signed up for a 5k the Sunday before Thanksgiving weekend!  We also met up with our friend Karen at the race and the three of us trotted to a perfectly acceptable 33 minute 5k!




After the race!



Very early in the morning, ready to go!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Green Juice

In the last few years I have dabbled here and there with various detoxes and the raw food movement.  A very good friend of mine from childhood has become a main player in the raw food movement  here in Chicago and I took a detox lifestyle class with her before I got married.

While I haven't found the lifestyle to be sustainable for me, I continue to dabble and find that my interest in a more wholistic approach to health and eating continues to grow.  It plays itself out in a myriad of ways, from focusing on eating local and seasonally whenever possible, to changing cleansers in my home, to turning off the tv and trying to slow down life as much as possible.  Just browsing the Recent Recipes section of my blog I can read the changing of the seasons just in the foods I'm cooking!

In the last year I have gotten into juicing.  I was thrilled when I first bought my juicer.  I was lucky that the woman at the checkout counter of Macy's was a longtime juicer who stoked my enthusiasm even further and gave me some great pointers (as well as some extra discounts!).

It's easy to juice in the spring and summer.  Everything is incredibly fresh, the days are getting warmer and our bodies are craving lighter fare.  However, I am making a concerted effort to keep juicing throughout the fall and winter.  If there's any time that our bodies could use an extra dose of fresh fruits and vegetables it is now!

One of the simplest and most cleansing juices is a simple Green Juice.  It has natural detox properties and helps readjust your body's pH levels.

Whenever at all possible, use organic fruits and vegetables when juicing!

GREEN JUICE

1/2 bunch of kale
1/2 bag baby spinach
1/2 cucumber
3-4 celery stalks
1/2 lemon, rind and pith removed

I juice all of this then run a bit of filtered water through the juicer to get out as much of the good stuff as possible.  I sometimes add a bit of sparkling water and tonight added a dash of hot sauce.  I also added a spoonful of Greener Grasses just to up the nutrient value.

The holidays are a time of great joy, but can really do a number on our bodies.  This holiday season my goal is to keep the fresh juices flowing to try to help with energy and weight control.  My exercise regimen has slacked off incredibly the last few weeks, but I ran a 5k yesterday and am heading back to the gym tomorrow!

Polenta Squares Topped with Sausage Ragu

I made this dish this week as a quick and easy meal to get us through until Thanksgiving.  I love polenta and enjoy using it in lieu of pasta, especially as I am trying to cut down on my gluten intake.  This was kind of an ad hoc red sauce that turned out pretty well!

POLENTA SQUARES TOPPED with SAUSAGE RAGU
FOR THE RAGU
2 spicy italian sausage links
     -meat removed from the casings and crumbled
1 24oz can diced or crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
olive oil
1 onion diced
1 carrot peeled and diced
1 celery stalk diced
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
splash of red wine
splash of balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
fresh parsley and basil chopped ( less than 1/4 bunch of parsley and about 10 basil leaves)

FOR THE POLENTA

1 cup quick cooking polenta
3 cups water
salt
butter
parmigan cheese for grating

RAGU
In large sauce pan heat some olive oil and cook the onion, carrot and celery until onion is soft and translucent.

Add the sausage and garlic and cook until the meat is browned.

Add a healthy splash of red wine and cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated.

Add the tomato paste and canned tomatoes, dried basil, red pepper flakes and simmer about 40 minutes.

Add a splash of balsamic and stir in the fresh herbs.  Simmer for a few more minutes and remove from the heat.

POLENTA
While the ragu is simmering, bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a sauce pan. 

Turn off the heat, add a pinch of salt and whisk in the cup of polenta.  Continue stirring the polenta with a wooden spoon until it thickens.

Add a little butter and grate parmesan cheese into the polenta.

Pour the polenta out into a baking dish and smooth.  Turn on the broiler and put the polenta under the broiler until the top just begins to harden.

Pull out and let cool.

Cut the polenta into squares and top with a hearty helping of the ragu and sprinkle a little more parmesan on top for serving. 

We served this meal with the Roasted Cauliflower.

Roasted Chestnuts

Roasted chestnuts are one of my favorite holiday snacks.  My mom always had little bowls of roasted chestnuts around the house as soon as the weather really got cold.  They remind me of childhood and make me want to wrap myself in warm clothing and sit in front of the fire. 

ROASTED CHESTNUTS

Use as many chestnuts as you would like.

Preheat the oven to 425

With a paring knife, cut an x on the flattest face of each chestnut.

Put them on a baking sheet cut side up and roast for about 20 minutes.

Let cool, put on your warmest socks, wrap yourself in your softest sweater, peel and enjoy!

Roasted Cauliflower

Cauliflower comes into season in fall and you may have been seeing a lot of it in your local supermarkets.  Now cauliflower is not considered by most to be the most exciting vegetable around, but we've come up with a simple way to serve it that makes it a welcome side dish addition to any fall meal.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER

1 head cauliflower
Olive oil
Sea Salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350.

Cut up the cauliflower into bite size pieces.  Put the pieces in a roasting pan or pyrex dish.  Add olive oil to lightly coat, salt and pepper.

Roast the cauliflower in the oven until it just starts to brown, checking every few minutes and stirring to prevent sticking.  Add some parmesan near the end if you like.

Voila!  An easy, cheap and healthy way to enjoy cauliflower in a new way. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Braised Chicken with Mushrooms, Pancetta and Almonds

You may have noticed that I don't cook a lot of meat.  My husband has been designated as the one who cooks the proteins while I take over the vegetables, sides, soups and appetizers.  However, last night I braised some chicken all by my lonesome!

We saw this recipe over a year ago on Food Network's Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.  We made it for Christmas Eve last year and it was an instant hit.  I really like Anne Burrell's show, but watching the amount of salt she uses in her cooking is horrifying.  It reinforces the idea of home cooking 90% of the time and eating out for special occasions!

BRAISED CHICKEN with MUSHROOMS, PANCETTA and ALMONDS

Olive oil
3 lbs chicken breasts on the bone with skin
1 pound (or so) mixed mushrooms (I used crimini and shiitake), cleaned and sliced
1/3 lb pancetta diced
1 very large onion diced
4 cloves of garlic minced
1 cup dry white wine
2-3 cups chicken stock
a few springs of thyme
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup blanched almonds
salt

In a large dutch oven heat the olive oil to high.  Pat the chicken dry, salt and add to the oil.  Cook on one side until browned and then turn to brown the other side.  If the oil starts smoking too much you can turn down the heat.

**I have always had a problem doing this.  You need the confidence to just leave the chicken alone while it spatters away.  Once it is nice and browned the chicken will lift easily up from the bottom of the pan. 



Remove the chicken and set aside.  Lower the heat and remove the excess oil.  Add the pancetta, raise the heat and cook until browned and crispy.  Add the onions and cook for about 7-8 minutes or until nice and softened.  Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes.  Add the mushrooms and cook until they have released their juices

**you can tell this by the change in color, they will become much darker.

Add the white wine a cook until reduced.  At this point, return the chicken to the pan.  Add in the chicken stock, thyme and bay leaves and bring to a boil.  Lower to a simmer, cover and cook for about 30-35 minutes until chicken is done.

Meanwhile toast the almonds in a sauce pan (just add the almonds to a hot pan and stir around until they just start to darken).  Put the almonds in a food processor and blend, adding olive oil as you do to make a paste.

When the chicken is done, remove the chicken and set aside.  Taste the sauce and season if needed.  Add the almond paste to the pot and cook until the sauce is thickened  **when I did this last night I added too much stock and had to cook this down for quite awhile.  That's fine, just make sure to continue stirring so the bottom doesn't burn. 

When it is thickened, remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves. 

Serve the chicken with a healthy dose of the sauce as a topping!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gratitude

I am grateful for my colleagues (current and former) who have so graciously agreed to write me recommendation letters for grad school.  There is nothing I hate more than the process of asking people for recs and everyone has responded so wonderfully.  It makes me feel like I am on the right track. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Cass Wine Dinner

Over the summer Jason went to a wine festival at the Botanic Gardens and found quite a treat. The Cass Winery. He brought home 1 each of the wines they were pouring, a viognier, a grenache and a syrah.  Since then the plan has been a 3 course meal paired with the Cass Wines.  This Friday it finally happened. 

1st Course - Seared scallop served on a bed of lentils topped with crispy bacon and sage served with Viognier



2nd Course - Spinach tortellini in a creamy gorgonzola sauce with prosciutto and spinach served with Grenache




3rd Course - Beer boiled grilled bratwurst over homemade red sauerkraut with 4 types of mustard served with Syrah




The meal was delicious and the wine pairings right on.  We both agree that the lentil and scallop dish was our favorite.  Dessert were just some simple, store bought pizelles followed by Apples to Apples!



Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pureed Chickpea Bean Soup with Farro and Porcini Mushrooms (Crema di Ceci con Farro e Funghi Porcini)

I found this recipe in a Tuscan cookbook Jason's co-worker Nancy gave us for Christmas one year.  The original recipe calls for starting with dried chickpeas which I simply didn't have time to deal with during the week.  Here is our take on it.  I'll give you the recipe how it is supposed to be made, and then give you the steps I took to rememdy my premature addition of the farro!

PUREED CHICKPEA SOUP WITH FARRO AND PORCINI MUSHROOMS

2 1/2 15oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tbsp tomato paste
salt, freshly ground black pepper and white pepper (optional) to taste
8 cups (32oz) vegetable stock
1/3 cup farro
Hot sauce to taste (approx. 1tsp)
Red wine vinegar to taste (approx 2 tsp)

FOR THE MUSHROOMS

1/2lb fresh porcini mushrooms, brushed clean
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic crushed (you will remove after sauteeing for a few minutes so crush instead of chopping)
2 tbsp dry white wine
1 fresh thyme sprig
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large soup pot over med-low heat warm the olive oil.  Add the onion, garlic and rosemary and sautee until onion is softened and translucent.

In a small bowl dissolve the tomato paste in 1 cup warm water and add to the pot.

Add the chickpeas and the stock, season to taste with the salt, black pepper and white pepper if you like.  Return to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 30 minutes.

Remove the rosemary sprig.  ***Blend the soup with an immersion or stand blender until creamy

Return the soup to a simmer over medium heat, add the farro and cook until farro is tender, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut off the tips of the mushroom stems and thinly slice the mushrooms lengthwise.

In a large sautee pan heat the oil over medium heat, add the garlic, cook until golden and fragrant and then remove the garlic.

Add the mushrooms and stir until they begin to soften, about 3 or 4 minutes.

Raise the heat to high, add the wine and thyme and cook, stirring constantly, until the alcohol has evaporated. 

Reduce the heat to low, season with salt and pepper and continue to cook until the mushrooms are cooked through and their juices have evaporated. 

Remove the thyme sprig.

Add the mushrooms to the soup and combine.  At this point I added the hot sauce in increments as well as the red wine vinegar.  I think this addition really helps to round out the soup and I have learned that most soups can benefit from a dash of acid at the end, in this case, in the form of red wine vinegar.

***Here is where things got a little ugly for me.  I distractedly dumped the farro into the pot before pureeing the soup!  What I did was scoop out ladles full of the chickpea and farro mixture and picked out the chickpeas, adding them to the blender.  When I had as many as I was going to get I added some of the liquid, pureed and returned it to the pot.  I contemplated waiting until the farro was cooked through and just pureeing all of the soup, chickpea, farro and all but was very concerned about what would happen to pureed farro.  This method of correction was incredibly tedious but seemed to work.  It also left some whole chickpeas in the soup which I actually enjoyed for added texture.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hummus

I have been enjoying making my own hummus this year, it is so easy, delicious and somehow more satisfying to eat (isn't everything homemade?).  I have a co-worker who loves hummus so I am eager to give her a taste of my latest batch!  And, with some baby carrots and radishes for dipping, it will be a much healtheir snack than the leftover halloween candy I've been eating.

HUMMUS

1 can garbanzo beans rinsed and drained
2 tbsp tahini
2 cloves garlic sliced in half
1 lemon
olive oil
good salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Add the beans, tahini and garlic to a food processor.  Squeeze the juice of 1/2 of the lemon into the food processor.  Add a dash of salt and freshly ground pepper.  While blending add the olive oil in a slow stream until the hummus looks to be the consistency you like.  Taste and add more salt, pepper and lemon juice as needed and blend again to mix all the ingredients.

I really like a nice, plain simple hummus but of course there are a million variations.  Let me know if you have a favorite!

Gratitude

I am so grateful that I have such a thoughtful husband, who, as a post-GRE present, brought me flowers and cannoli!  Now that's true love.

Monday, November 9, 2009

GRE

I took the GRE tonight.  It seemed quite difficult, but I'll take that as a good sign since it is Computer Adaptive Testing which bases the difficulty of the questions it gives you on how well you have answered the preceding questions.

You are given your scores for the Verbal and Quantitative sections immediately upon completion and I did pretty well.  Now, let's cross our fingers they get the writing samples graded and sent out to my schools before the end of the month!

Gratitude

I am so grateful for the incredible weather we had this weekend.  70s in November?  Fabulous.

I'm also grateful for those pumpkin, black bean burritos.  They are so good I am already dreaming about having another one for dinner tonight!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pumpkin Black Bean Burrito

Here's a recipe I adapted from Closet Cooking.  Another great way to use the pumpkin puree.  We had it for lunch today and it was absolutely delicious.

1 tbsp oil
1/2 onion diced
1 large clove garlic minced
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 can black beans (rinsed and drained)
1/2 cup water or stock
1or 2 tsp oregano
salt and pepper
1 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 chipotle pepper in adobo chopped
cilantro (to taste)
red wine vinegar or lime (optional)
tortillas

In a large pan heat the oil and saute the onion until translucent

Add the garlic and saute until fragrant

Add the chili powder and cumin and saute about a minute

Add the beans, water (or stock), oregano, salt and pepper and cook until most of the water evaporates and then remove from the heat.  I would add either a dash of red wine vinegar or lime juice here just to brighten up the flavors.

Mix the pumpkin puree, chipotle and cilantro in a bowl and heat it up in the microwave

Take a tortilla, top with some pumpkin and beans.  Sprinkle with toppings of your choice (I used shredded cheese and green onion).  Enjoy! 

Pumpkin Sage Risotto

Earlier this week I became slightly obsessed with roasting a pumpkin, so I did it.  It's easy, simply cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and threads and put face down on a baking sheet in a 400 degree oven for about an hour (plus or minus depending on the size of the pumpkin).

Now, I have a big batch of pumpkin puree that I need to do something with!  Last night, while I was out with friends eating crepes, Jason stayed home and made pumpkin risotto.  I just had a little for breakfast (I love leftover risotto for breakfast) and it was quite good!  Jason and I do not see eye to eye on the use of sage, so his dish had a little more than I would care for but that's my only comment.  He served the risotto as an accompaniment to a chicken breast with pesto. 

PUMPKIN SAGE RISOTTO

1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 onion diced
2 garlic cloves minced
5-6 cups of chicken stock
3/4 cup white wine
Pecorino (1/4 - 1/2 cup grated)
Olive oil
1 tbsp butter
8 fresh sage leaves chopped (to taste)
Nutmeg
Salt
Pepper

In a sauce pan bring the stock to an almost simmer and keep warm.

In a large pot sautee the onion in oil with salt and peper until onion is softened. 

Add the garlic and rice.  Sautee until rice starts becoming translucent.

Add the white wine and stir until liquid is abosrbed and alcohol is gone (about 3 minutes).

Add 1 ladle full of stock to the rice.  Stir until liquid is absorbed.  Continue adding stock one ladle at a time until the rice is cooked.

Just before it is finished, add the pumpkin, sage, a dash of nutmeg, the butter and additional salt and pepper to taste.  Grate the pecorino into the dish.  Stir until pumpkin is heated through.  Add a dash of apple cider vinegar to brighten up the flavors.  Enjoy!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Gratitude


I don't suppose anyone would imagine that an event which involved waking up to the Denver Boot on your car could result in feeling anything even approximating gratitude, but here it is (be patient, I'll get there)

First of all, I can't tell you how pleasant the people at City Hall were yesterday morning.  We had fun.

Second of all, my car was booted while parked overnight (legally) in a metered spot.  The meters are on from 8:00am to 6:00pm.  I parked my car at 9:30pm Thursday night and planned to leave for work before 8:00am on Friday.  Imagine my surpise at 7:45am to see the dreaded bright yellow contraption hooked up to my front tire.

Long story short, I take the L to my downtown office and pit stop at City Hall to pay the fines.  However, I now have a dilemma.  They can't tell me when the boot will be taken off, but as soon as they do, I will have my car sitting in a metered spot!  I called my local police district to explain my dillema and they told me if it did get ticketed that I would be able to contest it.  So I work my day as usual, planning on checking the car when I get home and moving it right away if the boot is off.

Flash forward to 8:30am today and as I'm getting out of bed (I don't work today) I remember that I NEVER MOVED THE CAR!  I could have 2 new tickets on the damn thing after shelling out $437 to clear all tickets off of both my and my husband's records to having the boot removed.

So (and here's where the gratitude part comes in) I race outside to find that I have been issued no tickets.  So, I am grateful that I do not owe the City of Chicago any more money and that my car is now safely parked in a regular spot. 

However, I'm one step closer to moving to the country.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pecorino, Honey & Orange Zest Part II

I came across this picture online of our wonderful waiter, Jonathan at Cantinetta dei Verrazzano!


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pecorino, Honey & Orange Zest Dessert



This summer we returned to Tuscany for our wedding anniversary trip. 

Our first day we stopped at the Cantinetta dei Verrazzano in Florence.  It is a wine bar owned by the Cappellini family who own the Castello di Verrazzano.  It was our first time and we were lucky enough to be seated at one of only 2 outside tables.  The day was gorgeous and we were hungry and eager for our first glass of Chianti (it just doesn't taste the same in the states).  We were also tired and slightly dazed from the travel.  Luckily our waiter spoke impeccable English and took quite a liking to us.  We let him surprise us with wines and even help with the food selection, including a dessert we didn't even order!

Now Florence is not known for their bread.  At some point in history the Tuscans took the salt out.  If you want bread go to France.  However, the rustic whole grain bread of this dessert was delicious and we were stunned with the simplicity of it. 

Jason surprised me this Friday with a re-creation of the dessert!  Tears almost welled up in my eyes as he laid the plate down in front of me.  All the memories of that simple meal came flooding back. 

PECORINO, HONEY & ORANGE ZEST DESSERT

A good, rustic whole grain bread
Soft pecorino
Honey
Orange zest
Black pepper

Take a slice of bread.  Top with a slice of the pecorino.  Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and orange zest.

Sounds too simple to be true?  Believe it. 

Gratitude

I am grateful for the faith my friends and loved ones have in me.  Through no fault other than my own I am suddenly taking the GRE on Monday, having not yet really studied.  The two people I spoke to about my dilemma (my running partner and my husband) both had the same reaction.  "Well, that's kind of soon but you're smart, you like tests and you'll do great."

I still panicked and had to eat a Totino's Party Pizza last night (um, emotional eating anyone?) but those few words helped to assuage my racing heart.  It feels a little bit like college, hunkering down to cram. 

Minus the numerous smoke breaks, of course.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Gratitude and contentment

I just came across this post on The Happiness Project website. 

It encapsulates a lot of what I think, but states it more eloquently than I have.  I think a lot of what is wrong with our society is how innured we become to the comforts of our situations.  We seem unable to be content for more than a few minutes at a time before we want it bigger and better. 

In our Type A, overdrive, age of immediate gratification we seem to have completely lost sight of the concept of contentment or satisfaction.  We've had it beaten into our heads that if you aren't constantly striving for something better you're a loser.  However, we seem to have only adapted this mindset when it comes to material objects and seem to forget all about it when it comes to personal betterment, our relationships or our committment to a greater good. 

It comes directly back to my own Gratitude project.  Instead of living days, weeks, years in the future which inevitably leads to dissatisfaction with the present, let's all slow down and look at where we are and what we have.  And allow ourselves a moment to breathe.  And smile. 

Monday, November 2, 2009

Lentil Sausage Soup

I love Monday nights.  Mondays I always come straight home from work and love to get things in order for the following week.  This often involves cooking several items to have available throughout the week.

Recently I have been craving lentils and decided that a lentil sausage soup would be perfect for the week ahead.

LENTIL SAUSAGE SOUP

1 1/2 cups lentils (rinsed and drained)
8 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 mild italian sausage links, meat removed from casings
1 can diced tomatoes (drained)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion diced
3 celery stalks chopped
1 carrot chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
salt and pepper
red wine vinegar
*several handfuls baby spinch (optional)

In a large sauce pan sautee the onion, carrots, celery and garlic in the olive oil.  Remove from pan.

In the pan cook the sausage until browned.

In a large stock pot put the vegetables, sausage, broth, lentils, canned tomatoes, herbs and seasonings.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 40 minutes.  Right at the end I throw some spinach in.  I then add a dash of red wine vinegar to brighten things up.  Start with maybe a half tablespoon and add more if you like. 

If you like, puree about 3 ladles full of the soup and return it to the pot for a thicker soup.

The soup is done and I'm waiting for my husband to return to work for the final taste test! 


Mashed Celery Root

I have become a big fan of the celery root, also known as Celeriac.  Most people I talk to don't know how to even approach the strange looking root.

Here's a recipe that we enjoy frequently, a twist on the traditional mashed potatoes

MASHED CELERY ROOT  


1 celery root
3 potatoes
dash of cream
butter
salt
pepper

Peel the potatoes and chop into pieces.  Peel the celery root and chop into similarly sized pieces.  Put in a pot, cover with water and boil until the potatoes and celery root are fork tender.

Remove from and drain.  Return the vegetables to the pot and add a dash of cream, a little butter (a tablespoon or two) and mash to desired consistency.  Taste, add more cream and butter if needed and season with salt and pepper.

Gratitude

OK, I'm a but behind and not really keeping up with my "one post a day" promise, but hey, what can I say.  The weekend was incredible, too much to do, too little time to blog.

Today I am grateful for the farm and the farmer's markets.  There is nothing more satisfying than being able to purchase your produce directly from the growers.  Except, perhaps, growing your own. 

Everything tastes better than anything you could buy in a store.  We didn't do a CSA this year and instead made our way to our local farmer's market every Sunday.  Greeting the neighbors and seeing the faces of the vendors who by now look familiar and recognize us by sight. 

I discovered a farm stand out near my suburban office and purchased a pie pumpkin, spaghetti squash, onions and green tomatoes.  This stand's season ends at the end of this week.  And my local farmer's market is done for the year.  However, they will be continuing once/month through the fall and early winter at a nearby inside location. 

I have big plans for the pumkin and green tomatoes.  I'll post my recipes here soon!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween Birthday!

Today I am most grateful for my husband.  Forty years old, can you believe it?  He still gets carded buying wine.  And he made ME a delicious dinner on the eve of his birthday, complete with a romantic dessert recreation of the dessert we had at the Cantinetta dei Verrazzano in Florence this past May (I'll post the menu later)

Our families are coming over shortly for a pancake breakfast and then tonight, Jason and I are off to Bon Soiree for what promises to be an incredible dinner. 

Happy Birthday Jason! 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Good Year

Over the last few months I have rekindled my relationship with the library.  It arose initially out of financial concerns.  It seemed frivolous to be spending the amount of money I was on books, especially books that I wasn't sure I would enjoy, let alone love.  I've gotten the last few bookclub books either on loan from friends or from the library.

Over the last month I have been driving out to my suburban office for work.  Pretty much a 40 minute ride in the morning and an hour back in the evening.  Without tv in my home it was a great time to get my current events on with NPR and WXRT.  However, radio can get old after awhile. 

So last time I hit the library I decided to get myself an audiobook.  Now, the Logan Square library, while shiny and new, is still a little lacking in its overall selection of materials.  But I came across "A Good Year" by Peter Mayle.  The brief synopsis:  an overworked and newly fired English banker finds out his uncle has died and left him his estate in Provence.

I just started disc 4 out of 6 and can barely describe how much I'm enjoying it.  While barrelling down I-55 in the doom and gloom of impending winter, I am transported to a fantasy world of chateau, vineyards, simple country living, food and, of course, wine. 

I tend to eschew the idea of living in a fantasy world, preferring to be face to face with reality, and most often, the uglier side of that reality.  But my commute has become a magical time for me, free from the constraints of my quotidian existence.  Imagining myself, as Max, exploring the possibility of an entirely new life.  And in Provence no less.

Today it roused my memories of the time I was lucky enough to have spent in France.  A mere 10 days, but what a trip.  Paris and the Loire valley were incredible.  And it made me grateful, for it was me, myself who traveled by car from Frankfurt to Paris, stopping in the Champagne region along the way.  It is a permanent chapter in my life, my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, wandering the Rodin museum, the Louvre and my first taste of pigeon, the Hotel Diderot in Chinon and tasting wine with Catherine in her vineyard.

Life IS good. 

Gratitude

I am trying very hard to be grateful for my current lot in life and live in the present as much as possible.  I'm grateful that I have a super cool vintage condo.  I'm grateful that, like last night, my husband and I have the freedom to forgo cooking and meal planning and just head to Goose Island for a spur of the moment burger and a beer at 8:00pm.  I'm grateful for the flexibility afforded to me right now.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Long Distance Running

I came across this interesting article in the New York Times.

One of my resolutions when I quit smoking was to take up running.  Amazing how easy it is to get addicted to poison, but how difficult it is to pick up a good habit.  Although this study gave me some hope.  Maybe I'm not a big giant loser, maybe I just need more patience.  Two solid months to develop a habit seems like forever, but is really a small blip on the radar in the grander scope of a lifetime. 

So, I am finally and regularly living out my running dream.  I can truly go out for a 3 mile run with just a normal amount of effort and little forethought.  I have a regular Tuesday night running partner.  I have long distance virtual training partners and support.  And I get a super high when I'm done with my runs!

That is not to say that there aren't days when I dread it.  Days where I even get so far as to get dressed for my run and still procrastinate for another hour.  But the seed of a habit has been planted. 

The overarching goal of course is better health and mainly to lose weight.  The pounds haven't really dropped yet but I'm currently wearing jeans I couldn't get into before and I have "de-puffed" all around.

The tangible goal is a half marathon in Miami!  January 31st.  The training in the winter is actually the most daunting to me.  But the thought of a beautiful run in beautiful weather during the dead of the Chicago winter keeps me motivated. 

I'll let you know how it goes.  I've been training but the official 12 week program starts on Monday.

Gratitude

This morning I am grateful for my Neti Pot.  I know that some of you may not have heard of the neti pot.  Others of you look horrified when hearing about it.  But all I know is yesterday I felt like garbage and knew it was centered in my head.  I use the Neti Pot last night and I feel great today. 

Remind me to use it more often!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Gratitude

I am grateful for friends with whom to spontaneously spend a Sunday evening.  I am grateful for whole chickens and, I am even finding myself a little grateful for Football.  It makes a good excuse to get out on a Sunday.  But mostly, I am grateful for the friends.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gratitude

I am grateful for my niece.  She is nuts, she does tumbling tricks and physical acts that I'm sure will get her hurt or maimed, yet she is always fine.  She loves her princesses and tells it like it is.  She give snuggles and kisses.  And she won't go to bed when her Aunt Amy and uncle J-J are babysitting, but that's ok.  I bet we all slept in this morning.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gratitude

Ok, I wanted to post this during Friday proper, but was at a friend's house while this discussion arose and she did not have any internet connection.  So this is my Friday post although it will not show up until early Saturday morning. 

So today (Friday) I am grateful for the fact that shortly after college many of my friends married foreigners.

Not only have I learned so much about other cultures, I've also learned how to share a dinner with people with whom you can maybe only share a few words.  It has opened my mind and made me a better well rounded person to be around Germans, Basques, Mexicans, Italians, Ecuadorians, Poles etc.  It helps all of us to appreciate our current way of life while incorporating elements of the people and places we have visited.  It reminds us that the world isn't really that big and that strangers aren't really that strange. 

I am a Gemini, I thrive on the duality and mulifaceted nature of  humanity. If we were all the same I would die of boredom.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

GRATITUDE

I've had kind of a rough go of it recently.  And it's been made worse by my attitude.  Especially as of late I have been a nasty, ungrateful, green-eyed (and often over-served) B**ch.

I've decided that it's time to take control of this situation (haven't the last couple of years been about empowerment?)

Here's what I'm going to do, every day, once a day between now and Thanksgiving I am going to write down something that I am grateful for.  It can be a person, an experience, a trait of my own or even a material object.  But I'm pretty sure I can come up with at least one thing every single day.  It's time to start viewing my life through rosier colored glasses. 

Feel free to share anything that YOU are grateful for.

Today, I am grateful for my fleece Columbia vest.  While it is not the most fashionable, and I have a tendency to wear it over my work clothes in the office, it provides a sense of security as the days get darker and colder.  It makes me feel warm and fuzzy.  And I'm wearing it right now.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

If you're in Chicago, you know that summer is long gone (did it ever really arrive?) and fall is underway.

This early in the season it is easy to enjoy the chill in the air while pulling out the jeans and fleeces.  I have an uncontrollable urge to go apple picking.  The crockpot has come out to play.  My husband and I spent several hours Sunday cleaning, organizing and starting to get settled into the house for the winter.

And while early fall is fine, we all know what's coming.  Freezing temperatures, days when you never see the sun and that mind-numbing malaise of February and March when you "just don't know if I'm going to be able to make it" and "can't imagine why anyone would live here".

But, there is a bright spot, a small, shining red beacon of hope to help us through the long, cold winter.  Sinfully seductive and worth all the effort it requires.

The pomegranate is back.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Black Bean Soup

I meant to make some black bean soup at the same time as the tacos, however, it had to wait until a few days later.  Luckily we're still enjoying the tacos!

BLACK BEAN SOUP
2 tbsp olive oil
2 carrots diced
1 onion diced
a couple of cloves of garlic minced
2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp diced jalapeno or 1 tbsp Amy's homemade salsa
2 cans black beans undrained (preferably low sodium since you don't drain them)
1 can diced tomatoes undrained (I used the tomatoes with green chilis)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
lime (or if no lime use red wine vinegar)

 In a large pot heat the olive oil and sautee the onion, garlic and carrot until they are softened.

Add the cumin and the jalapeno.  I didn't have any jalapeno so I added a heaping tbsp of my salsa which is pretty damn spicy.  Add the black beans, the tomatoes and the chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Lower to a simmer, cover and let cook for about 15 minutes or until the carrots are soft.

Pour off 3 cups of the soup, add to a blender and puree.  Return to the pot and continue to simmer. 

At this point I tasted and started seasoning.  The soup definitely needs salt and a dose of black pepper.  Ideally I would have added some lime juice, but since I didn't have any I added a splash of red wine vinegar.  I like my foods pretty spicy so I added a bit more of the salsa, probably a little more than I would have liked.

Jason and I both had a ladle full of the soup with tacos the night I made the soup.  Personally, I think soup is ALWAYS best one day later.  The flavors have time to meld and, in the case of my spicy soup, mellow.  However, even on day one it is definitely a success.

Drink with a New Glarus Spotted Cow.