Saturday, December 24, 2011

Baking and Other Good Smelling Things


Christmas is nearly upon us.  Have you been busy in the kitchen baking up all those seasonal treats you just have to have this time of year?  With our anniversary cruise just a week away (yay!) I scaled holiday baking way back this year.  My waist line cannot handle a glut of holiday treats then a week of buffets and cocktails.  I  kept it to two seasonal must-do's and one something I really wanted. 

Rob's birthday was on Thursday and a year hasn't gone by that I have not baked him a batch of traditional English shortbread to have with his afternoon cup of tea.  I decided to try a different recipe this year.  It called for brown sugar, which was a very nice touch but I thought the ratio of flour to butter was off.  I think they turned out way to pasty and flour-y, so much so that I could actually taste the flour.  I will go back to my tried and true recipe for next year.  But Rob is quite happily eating his way through the tin, so I'm glad he's enjoying them.

Mini-mincemeat pies are another of Rob's Christmas must haves.  I have yet to find a great tasting pre-made mincemeat so I started making my own.  It's so easy and so delicious, I could never go back to the jarred stuff.  I slightly adapted Gordon Ramsay's recipe for the mince.  (I really like cooking by weight but if you don't have a food scale like I do, here is a good recipe converter.) 


I used the mince to make mini pies, not the palmiers as the recipe indicates, though I like the idea.  I added much more spice than the recipe called for, almost a whole nutmeg, freshly grated along with adding ground ginger in addition to the cinnamon and allspice.  I used bourbon and honey liqueur in place of the rum and whiskey in the recipe.  I made the mincemeat on Monday to let it age in the fridge and it smells absolutely heavenly.  We baked up the pies together this afternoon.


 The recipe made a lot of mincemeat, enough for 2 dozen pies.  I only made 12, so I put the rest in a mason jar to freeze.  Not sure if it will be good to use next year but it's worth a shot.

Next up is what I really wanted and that was rich, dark and sticky gingerbread cake.  Like the mincemeat, gingerbread gets better with age, so I made this early in the week, wrapped it up and let it sit.  It was worth the wait, this recipe is amazing!  I followed the method but used molasses in place of black treacle, replaced golden syrup with the same weight of  chunky ginger preserves.  I omitted the stem ginger and put in a generous grating of fresh ginger.  I baked it in a brownie pan for about an hour.  When it is time for a cup of tea, I cut a square and frost it to order with cream cheese whipped with homemade lemon curd.  If you are a fan of gingerbread, you must try this recipe.  It is a keeper.

 And to make the house smell festive like I've been baking up a storm all week even though I haven't, I filled a saucepan with water and then added cinnamon sticks, star anise, whole cloves, cardamom pods, fresh lemon, mulling spices, vanilla extract and every time I peel a clementine, I toss the peel into the mix.  I've had this simmering on the stove top all day, every day this week.  I keep topping up the water as it simmers away.  Beats the wick off a scented candle, for sure.

We have a very low key weekend planned, we're just happy to be home together with our Tally.  Wherever your weekend takes you, I wish you warmth, safety and deliciousness!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Blah Tuesday

Rob returned home safely on Friday night, I'm so grateful to have him back.  Don't even get me started on how thrilled Tally was when her Bunny walked through the door.  I thought she was going to shake her tail right off.  

I'm pleased with the way my workouts are going, the 28 day Shapeover is a great weight lifting plan and my walks with Tally are also going well.  But the eating, that's another story.  I think I ate my weight in potato chips last night and may have drunk just a little bourbon.  And by a little, I mean a double on the rocks just like the Reverend Mosby in The Parent Trap

We had a follow-up meeting with the realtor yesterday.  I felt fairly hopeful after our initial meeting, but I was crestfallen and feeling defeated this time.  Three houses popped up for sale in our neighborhood, two for short-sale and another priced so low that it hurts to think about.  We are so looking forward to moving to Virginia but we just can't afford to give our house away at the closing table.  Rob and I have a lot to think about and I'm pretty much beside myself.  So not an excuse for my less than healthy behavior, but a trigger just the same.

I know I have too much great in my life to feel sorry for myself but it will take awhile for me to process that it may be much longer before we get to where we want than originally planned.  Patience has not always been my strong suit.  Perhaps a lesson for me here, time will tell because my inner brat isn't very receptive at the moment.

How is your week going?  I'm off to work this evening then off to food shop for Rob's birthday dinner and the holiday weekend tomorrow morning after the gym.  We're not doing much for the holidays but Rob is turning 45 and I'm making a special dinner for us and some dear friends.  What are your big plans for the weekend?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble

Not that it's much toil or trouble, but tossing some roasted meat on the bone and some leeks in a pot and bringing it to a bubble will make the house smell delectable.  Rob has been away working for 16 days now and won't be back until Friday and I want to make sure he comes home to something nourishing and homey after eating in restaurants for three weeks.  I bought some beautiful kale and carrots and will add them to the pot after the meat is fork tender and the bones have given up the marrow.  The two grass fed, dry aged beef short ribs will make the broth luxurious.  I wish you could know how good it smells in here right now!

I was disappointed to find that Whole Foods had nothing in the way of soup bones, neither beef nor poultry so I had to buy more meat than I wanted to just to get the bones.  Maybe that was their evil plan all along.  Once we're settled in Virginia, we are going to invest in a meat locker so we can source local grass fed beef bones and pastured poultry bones/necks at bulk prices and stock up.  Haha, stock, get it?

Bone stock is one of the best defenses against the common cold that can run wild this time of year. While the masses are out getting flu shots, drinking Emergen-C by the gallon and bathing in Purell, I'm going to be eating soup and stews made with my homemade stock stock, I'm also making sure I get lots of sleep, stay hydrated, get plenty of fresh air and sunshine, take my Vitamin D every day as well as eat lots of citrus fruit.  The ruby red grapefruit is coming in to season and it has been delicious.  And don't forget hand washing!  As a nurse, I'm well versed in the art of hand washing and it really is the first line of defense against germs.

What are you going to do to avoid the nasty common cold this season?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Creamy Broccoli Soup

Whenever I talk to my Mother on the phone, we talk food.  Surprise, surprise.  In one of our recent conversations Mother mentioned that she had been on a stock and soup making kick.  Then she said the magic words I couldn't get out of my head~Creamy Broccoli Soup.  The next day I was at the market buying the ingredients.

This recipe is so easy but the results taste like a gourmet bistro dish. 

1. Broccoli crowns, I used five good sized ones, roughly chopped
2. Homemade chicken stock, one quart
3. One medium onion, chopped
4. Two fat garlic cloves, crushed
5. One block of Neufchatel cream cheese
6. A couple of tablespoons of butter or olive oil

Toss your broccoli into a big stock pot, fill with a few inches of clean water, bring to a boil, lower the heat to simmer and cook, covered, until the broccoli is very tender.

Meanwhile, saute the onion in the butter or oil.  I use Kerrygold grass fed butter.  Cook the onion until very tender and translucent, add the garlic and cook gently until fragrant.  Don't brown the onions or let the garlic burn.

Add the onion and garlic to the broccoli in the stock pot, then add the chicken stock and block of cream cheese.  Stir over low heat until the cheese is all melted into the soup. Season with salt and white pepper to taste.

If you have an immersion blender, break that baby out and process until smooth and creamy. If not, do like I did and process in batches in the blender.  Return the soup to the pot and test for seasoning.  If you are serving right away, return the pot to the heat get it nice and steaming hot.  

This soup is a revelation, my Mother's trick with the cream cheese made for a really wonderfully flavorful and super creamy soup.  Thanks Ma!

I served my soup with a grilled cheese sandwich, Cabot hot habanero cheese on sesame Ezekiel bread, the first night.  Today for lunch, I stirred in some grated Romano cheese and drizzled on a bit of truffle oil.  That was so good, I will likely have it for my lunch again tomorrow.  I never knew broccoli could be so delectable!  I bet cauliflower would work great in place of broccoli and all sorts of winter squash, too.

Here's some bonus food porn, my supper tonight.  Rob is away so I wanted something pretty easy but delicious and satisfying.  I give you mango lime terriyaki sockeye salmon over a spinach and ruby red grapefruit salad drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wonderful Williamsburg

I recently met with our local realtor and it went better than expected. Despite home values being down, like many areas of the country, I was surprised to hear that people are still out buying homes and they are selling faster than I would have thought.  This gives me hope that it won't be too long before we are back in Wonderful Williamsburg.  Which totally makes me want to relive our amazing trip...

We arrived late on a Wednesday evening after a long drive.  After a good night's sleep we hit Merchant's Square for breakfast before our meeting with the realtor.  We stopped in this hip little place called Aromas that serves food and coffee all day.  I had a delicious veggie quiche that had a crust that was so buttery and yummy.  I had a Honey Do latte and Rob had a very interesting white mint mocha to go along with his full breakfast.

Needless to say we are as delighted with our first taste of Williamsburg as we look!  We then took an early morning stroll around Merchant's Square which sits right between Colonial Williamsburg and the campus of the College of William and Mary.  This is the exterior of The Trellis Restaurant, home of the world famous Death by Chocolate dessert.  More on that later.

We popped over to the visitor's center at Colonial Williamsburg to pick up some info and then we went to meet Deelyn, the realtor.  She took us on a great tour of all the residential areas and we found a few neighborhoods that we will definitely give a second look to.  We toured a few homes, but it was mostly a fact finding mission.  We were out and about all day.  We finally called it a day at Second St Bistro.  What a great place!  The service and food were top notch.  I had a Grey Goose dirty martini with blue cheese stuffed olives that hit the spot.  I also ordered this amazing grilled salad that I'm still thinking about.

I didn't spend too much time taking pictures, the atmosphere was so nice and we just wanted to chat about our day. We both had beef dishes but I can't remember exactly what. 

Friday was sunny, chilly and windy.  We headed back to Merchant's Square for breakfast but this time at the Blue Talon Bistro.  I fell in love with this little place, I can't wait to have dinner here.  It's adorable, all French country and the food and coffee...mmmm, so good!  

I ordered the European breakfast plate but substituted the baguette for a croissant, which I used as a vehicle to get the soft butter and homemade blackberry jam into my mouth.  Rob had creamed chipped beef with poached eggs.  The cream sauce was heavenly. 

Look at that fantastic tin ceiling!

I had a hard time not stealing that bottle.  If only my purse were a bit bigger. ;)

After breakfast we took a stroll around the square and then hopped in the truck to take a leisurely drive along the scenic Colonial Parkway which connects historic Yorktown to historic Jamestown. 

One of the many scenic stops along the parkway

We arrived in Yorktown and had a stroll along the river and in the Riverwalk area, which had lots of little shops and restaurants. 

The next photo is dedicated to my Nana.  She had many sayings that have long remained in the family.  One of our favorites is "Hooray for George Washington."  So of course I had to stop by and salute General Washington.

It was so chilly,we stopped in the local Ben and Jerry's shop for hot chocolate to drink on on our ride on the parkway to Jamestown.  It was Rob's inspired idea, I didn't even notice the Ben and Jerry's shop.  I better get my eyes checked!

The Jamestown Settlement is where the first British settlers landed in 1607.  It's a museum, an active archeology site, a history buff's dream and the river views are amazing.

The Pocahontas Monument

We headed to the touristy part of town and tried to visit the huge Yankee Candle shop but it was very crowded.  We had an early supper at a cute place called Food for Thought.  It wasn't anything special, but certainly better than the alternatives like Applebee's and Chili's.  We headed back to the hotel, had  drink at the bar and had an early night. 

Saturday was the day I was most looking forward to, our tour of Colonial Williamsburg!  We hit Starbucks for lattes then parked at the visitor's center.  Although you can enter the entire area of Colonial Williamsburg without tickets (it's not a theme park like Walt Disney World) we wanted access to all the tours and buildings so we bought tickets.  It was a mild, sunny day and we were just enchanted by every bit of it.

First we wandered through the formal garden of the Governor's Palace then to the kitchen garden just outside the detached kitchen.

The "cook" is there to talk about his job and what it was like to feed the Governor and his family and all the visitors to the palace.  Lots of interaction, I asked lots of questions.

We then just walked around exploring the whole area.  Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum and it is just fascinating.

The Fife and Drum Corps, the highlight of the day!

We took the guided tour of the Governor's Palace, this is the ballroom.  They set the scene for the tour that we are guests arriving for the Governor's Ball celebrating the birth of the Governor's youngest daughter.  It was so much fun!

We walked for hours and miles and by now we were hungry.  We visited the Cheese Shop

 One of America's oldest colleges, second only to Harvard

Lord Botetourt Sculpture reproduction

Williams-Sonoma in Merchant's Square, the mother ship

After a long day of walking and touring we headed back to the car.  We originally had plans to eat at one of the Colonial taverns, the reservation was late so we parked over at Merchant's Square and bellied up to the bar at The Trellis.  We had a cocktail and chatted with the bartenders and other patrons.  The atmosphere at the bar was so lively, coupled with the thoughts of Death by Chocolate, we decided to stay and eat at the bar.  This is when my camera battery died.  D'OH!  Suffice it to say, the food was just wonderful.  I ate very light, ordering small plates as my appetizer and main course because chocolate was incoming.

This photo is courtesy of the Optima Insurance website.  But it is exactly right.  All seven layers, the malted chocolate ice cream, the handmade white chocolate truffle.  I first learned of this cake many years ago on the cooking show Death by Chocolate starring the original chef-owner of the Trellis, Marcel Desaulniers who created it.  It definitely lived up to the expectation, it was ridiculous especially the later of cocoa air!  We couldn't finish it but I would love to go back and give it another try.

Sunday was a slower day, we went to a fantastic Sunday brunch at Opus 9.  They had a chocolate fountain with strawberries to dip.  I had such a hard time not pulling a Vicar of Dibley and stick my face right in it.  Then we went back to Riverwalk at Yorktown and took a long walk along the river.  Rob was starting his new job on Monday and had to be at the office in Newport News and I had to drive home so we had an early night.  If it wasn't for Tally waiting for me I would have stayed the week with Rob.  Williamsburg is hard to leave.

For those of you who are bored at work and want to view the entire set of 201 photos, click here.

And be sure to check out the little video clip I took of the Fife and Drum Corps, I'm no Spielberg but it's pretty cool.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Last Chance Victories 2011

I have been at a loss since my beloved laptop shit the bed but my nifty little netbook just arrived  to take it's place.  It's really small and light and the keyboard is just the right size for my small hands, though my right pinkie is still getting used to the positioning shift button.  I think it will be just the thing to get my blogging back on a more regular basis.

Can you believe it's December 1st?  Has 2011 been a good year for you?  For us it has been uneven, to say the least.  It's been a year of changes and though it's taken some time for me to digest all the changes, I am hoping end the year on a high note. Although I'll be ending the year slightly heavier than I had intended,  I will NOT allow December go out in a blur of food, wine and laying around watching reruns.  

Since the end of September, I have been doing great with getting to the gym for weight lifting on a regular basis and feeling so much stronger for it as well as getting out and walking.  We're just about a month out from our cruise, I'm going to take on the 28-Day Shapeover weight lifting program that I did early in the year.  It is the perfect last chance victory to make sure my new black dress for New Year's Eve will look fabulous. 

Other than making sure I eat healthy, sleep well and get in my daily fitness, I'm going to make a concerted effort not to get overwhelmed or stressed, which can be tricky at this time of year.  Not sure of my strategy yet, but I will take each day as it comes.

How are you going to make December work for you?