Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Risotto: Two Ways

Due to my recent confusion/uncertainty/insecurities/what-have-yous about my current job situation and my future job situation, I have been trying to read some inspiring or uplifting literature.
My friend Natasha recommended The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch, to me last week when we got together for dinner and conversation. I quickly checked it out at the library and finished it in two days.
In his last few months of life, Pausch, a Professor at Carnegie Mellon, offers some amazing wisdom and inspiration. While his whole "lecture" speaks to me at great depths, a few sections are screaming at me right now, more than others.
Chapter 28: Dream Big. "Give yourself permission to dream."
Chapter 51: No Job Is Beneath You. "No job should be beneath us. And if you can't (or won't) start at the bottom (like sort mail), where is the proof that you can do anything?"
Chapter 53: Never Give Up. He writes, "If you want something badly enough, never give up (and take a boost when offered). Brick walls are there for a reason. And once you get over them - even if someone has practically had to throw you over - it can be helpful to others to tell them how you did it." Never give up. Seems simple enough.
Chapter 55: All You Have to Do Is Ask. "Sometimes, all you have to do is ask, and it can lead to all your dreams coming true. Ask those questions. Just ask them. More often than you'd suspect, the answer you'll get is, "Sure.""
In the coming months, especially after I get back from my South America trip, I'm going to take many of Pausch's words of wisdom and advice into action and just dive in. There's no other way.

In other food-related news, I made risotto twice this week. Risotto gets me thinking about another important life lesson, "Patience is a virtue."
If you don't have patience, you can just go ahead and dismiss the following recipes. BUT if you do have even just a little, you'll come out with two ooey gooey, creamy, flavorful dishes. And let's be honest, who can resist ooey gooey? No one.

Tomato and Sausage Risotto
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Martha Stewart Everyday)

1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes in juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground hot Italian sausage
1 small onion, finely chopped
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, pressed (or garlic powder)
1 teaspoon (or so) oregano
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a pinot grigio)
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 bunch baby spinach, washed well, tough stems removed, chopped (about 2-3 cups)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter
(This risotto is remniscent of pasta/pizza with its flavors, but much more magical. I promise.)

In a small saucepan, combine tomatoes (with their juice), 2 cups broth, and 1 cup water. Bring just to a simmer; keep warm over low heat. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add sausage, onion, garlic, and seasonings. Cook, breaking up sausage with a spoon, until sausage is browned and onion has softened.

Add rice; cook, stirring until well coated, then add wine; cook, stirring until absorbed.

Add about 2 cups hot tomato mixture to rice; simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until absorbed. Continue adding tomato mixture, 1 cup at a time, waiting for one cup to be absorbed before adding the next, stirring occasionally, until rice is creamy and tender (you may not have to use all the liquid). This step took me about 45+ minutes.

Remove pan from heat. Stir in spinach, Parmesan, and butter. Serve immediately (risotto will thicken as it cools).

Sun-dried Tomato Risotto
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, pressed (or garlic powder)
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a pinot grigio)
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 bunch baby spinach, washed well, tough stems removed, chopped (about 2-3 cups)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup goat cheese
1 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons butter
*Next time I would add: seasoned chicken breast and asparagus.

In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups broth, and 1 cup water. Bring just to a simmer; keep warm over low heat. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add onion and garlic. Cook until onion has softened.
Add rice; cook, stirring until well coated, then add wine; cook, stirring until absorbed.

Add about 1 cup hot broth to rice; simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1 cup at a time, waiting for one cup to be absorbed before adding the next, stirring occasionally, until rice is creamy and tender.

Stir in sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, (chicken and cooked asparagus)Parmesan and goat cheese, and butter. Serve immediately!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Herb Crusted Chicken with Feta Sauce

I know, it appears like all Eric and I eat is dessert and/or baked goods.
This is mostly true.
But SOMETIMES, just sometimes, I try to be a little healthier and mix it up a tad.

I love the flavors of Greek food. The lamb, the falafel, the tzatziki sauce, the tomatoes and cucumber and onion, the hummus. I love it all!
And while ordering a gyro or a greek plate out is incredibly tasty, it is also laden with SO many calories (whether we choose to believe this or not).
I didn't make homemade gyros or anything. BUT I did make a dinner that is somewhat Greek-inspired, chock full of flavor AND super fresh. The best part is, it's quite healthy!
I served the chicken over a bed of vegetable orzo. Greek-style green beans (recipe below) and chopped tomatoes and cucumbers also accompanied the meal. Delish!

Herb-Crusted Chicken with Feta Sauce
(Cooking Light recipe)
2/3 cup whole wheat panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
4 (6 oz.) skinless, boneless chicken breast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 teaspoons EVOO
6 tablespoons Feta Sauce

Feta Sauce
1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
4 teaspoons EVOO
1 package reduced-fat feta cheese, crumbled (I used tomato & basil seasoned feta)
pinch of black pepper

To make chicken: Combine panko and Italian seasoning in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and dredge in panko mixture.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 5 minutes or until browned. Turn chicken over; reduce heat to medium, and cook another 5 minutes, or until done. Place 1 chicken breast on plate and spoon Feta Sauce over each serving!

To make sauce: Grate rind and squeeze lemon to measure 1/2 teaspoon and 2 tablespoons(rind, juice). Combine rind, juice, mint, oil, and pepper in small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add cheese, stirring with a whisk.

Greek-Style Green Beans
(adapted from Cooking Light recipe)
12 oz. fresh green beans, trimmed
1/4 cup shallots, sliced
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/4 cup crumbled feta
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon EVOO
pinch black pepper

Cook beans for a few minutes in boiling pot of water over high heat. Plunge beans into ice water, then drain. Place beans in skillet over medium heat with olive oil, shallots, and garlic and sautee until shallots are translucent and beans start to become tender. Place in large bowl and toss with remaining ingredients.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Banana Cream Pie + 3 Years

Today is a special day.
Today marks exactly three years since mine and Eric's love story first began(And let me tell you, it's one for the books).
Three years, people. We're kind of a big deal now.
So I feel like today is the perfect day to document how Eric and I met, since I love the story oh-so-much, and the many reasons why I love and appreciate him. Sorry in advance for the mushy gushy sappiness, but sometimes, you just gotta do it.

It was fate. It really was!
It tooks weeks, maybe even months, for me to decide that I would be studying abroad in Granada, Spain. I knew Spain was the country from the get-go, but Granada took some time to figure out. I thought for sure it was going to be Sevilla, I was set on it even, but then a professor of mine announced to the class one day while talking about studying abroard, that if we were choosing to go to Spain, DON'T go to Sevilla. My heart was broken. I didn't have to listen to her, but I did. She said it had become "Americanized" and that if our goal was to learn and practice speaking Spanish, it wouldn't happen there. After much discussion and thought, I decided on Granada.
Eric's selection process was purely random. Granada, Spain. Boom. Done.

So a girl attending school in Bellingham, Washington and a guy going to school in Irvine, California end up choosing the same country, the same city and the same program. (Like I said, it was fate.)

Eric was there a month before me for a summer program, and then shortly after my group arrived in September, our program had the opportunity to take a weeklong excursion to Morocco. We were both lucky enough to be able to go, and this is where it first began.
We were "camping" out in the Sahara Desert, and the Berbers had cooked us food and were providing us entertainment in a big tent one night. There was music and dancing and laughing. I was sitting at a table, not feeling well, but watching some of my friends dance. I noticed Eric right away. He picked up one of the little Berber boys and had him on his shoulders and was dancing around with him. The boy absolutely loved it (and I thought it was pretty adorable, too). Eric and I kept stealing glances at each other. I felt an instant connection. (I think/hope he did too.)

We spent the next few months getting to know each other through coffee dates, dinners, walks around Granada, nights out drinking and dancing, so many tapas, and excursions around Spain. I always tell everyone being in Spain was the best three months of my life so far, and Eric had a lot to do with that. At the end of our time there, we decided to give a long distance relationship a try.
And three years later, here we are.
I never expected to meet my perfect match in Spain. But love creeps up on you when you least expect it.

I'm SO lucky! Why? Because....
-He let's me call him ridiculous things like, 'bubs' and 'nunners' and 'booj'. (Don't even ask)
-He rubs my head until I fall asleep when I have migraines.
-He is ALWAYS positive and reassuring when I am being a negative nancy.
-He loves my cooking and baking.
-He watches the Food Network with me.
-He tells me I'm beautiful even when I feel at my worst.
-He tells me I'm beautiful when he knows I put a little extra effort to look cute.
-He protects me when I'm scared.
-He believes in me when I don't believe in myself.
-He pushes me to challenge myself and helps me to be a better me.
-He lets me pinch his boobies almost everyday, even though he hates it.
-He loves being weird and silly with me and loves that I'M weird and silly.
-and so on and so on...

They say a way to a man's heart is through food. Well, I've already won Eric's heart, but I still like to win him over again and again and again through my cooking and especially, baking.
Awhile ago, I asked Eric what his all-time favorite dessert was. After a little thinking, banana cream pie was the verdict. So for this special day, I wanted to make him a completely homemade banana cream pie. No pre-made pie crust, no vanilla pudding packets, no Cool Whip....we're talking 100% homemade, because he deserves the very best.

Happy Anniversary, Eric.
I hope you love your pie today (it was made with so much love!)
Thank you for being an amazing man and making me feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
Te quiero para siempre.

Banana Cream Pie
(Source: Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

For the Custard:
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
½ cup (packed) light brown sugar, pressed through a sieve
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
3 ripe but firm bananas
1 9-inch single crust made with Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough
fully baked and cooled

For the Topping:
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sour cream

Dorie's Pie Crust:
Makes two 9-inch pie crusts (I halved the recipe since I only needed one)

3 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
12 ounces cold butter, cut into pieces
6 to 8 tablespoons, ice water

To make crust:
Add flour, sugar and salt to the food processor bowl attachment on your Cuisinart Stand Mixer. Pulse for 1 to 2 seconds to combine. Scatter the butter pieces over the dry ingredients. Pulse, in one-second intervals, 8 to 10 times until it forms a sandy texture, with some pieces being about the size of a pea.
Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of ice water over the mixture. Pulse until it forms a rough ball (add additional water if needed, 1 tablespoon at a time). Turn dough onto a counter or cutting board. Divide and form each half into a disk. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight (be sure to take out a few minutes beforehand so it will be easier to roll out).

To Make the Custard: Bring the milk to a boil.
Meanwhile, in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until well blended and thick. Whisking without stopping, drizzle in about ¼ cup of the hot milk – this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won’t curdle – then, still whisking, add the remainder of the milk in a steady stream. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking constantly (make sure to get into the edge of the pan), bring the mixture to a boil. Boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes before removing from the heat. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the custard is smooth and silky. You can either press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the custard to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the custard until cold or, if you want to cool the custard quickly – as I always do – put the bowl into a large bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water and stir occasionally until the custard is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes. (If it’s more convenient, you can refrigerate the custard, tightly covered,for up to 3 days.)

When you are ready to assemble the pie, peel the bananas and cut them on a shallow diagonal into ¼-inch-thick slices. Whisk the cold custard vigorously to loosen it, and spread about one quarter of it over the bottom of the piecrust – it will be a thin layer. Top with half of the banana slices. Repeat, adding a thin layer of pastry cream and the remaining bananas, then smooth the rest of the pastry cream over the last layer bananas.

To Make the Topping: Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream until it just starts to thicken. Beat in the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until the cream holds firm peaks. Switch to a rubber spatula and gently fold in the sour cream.

To Finish: Spoon the whipped cream over the filling and spread it evenly to the edges of the custard. Serve, or refrigerate until needed.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Travel South America 2012

After years of hoping and wishing and saving money and talking and planning, I'm so excited to announce that Eric and I FINALLY bought our plane tickets to South America!
We will be going here:

Source: via Laura on Pinterest

...and seeing things like this:

Source: via Laura on Pinterest

...and this:

Source: via Laura on Pinterest

I CANNOT WAIT! It's going to be the most beautiful trip of my life.
Eric and I will be cheersing tonight to pisco sours, high altitudes, cuy and ceviche, the Amazon Rainforest, and many many adventures to come!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

I love making homemade bread. Something about the smells and the warmth are so cozy on a fall day.
Breadmaking is known to be difficult, so every time I succeed, I feel accomplished and get complete satisfaction out of it.
Plus, kneading dough is fun and feels pretty radical. I love squishing and punching and twisting it in my hands.
Today I got called off work. It was rainy and chilly outside, and I had nothing but time on my hands. This equates the perfect breadmaking day.
While I was waiting the two hours for my dough to rise, I snuggled in a blanket, caught up on all my girly shows Eric won't watch with me (Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl don't appeal to him, really?) and did some reading.
I love days off. And homemade bread. Did I already mention that?

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
Nonstick cooking spray or butter (to prevent the bread from sticking to the bowl and pan)

Mix the yeast according to the directions on the packet.
Add melted butter, milk, sugar and salt to the yeast mixture and stir. Add two cups of flour. Start stirring, and then add the flour about 1/4 cup at a time every minute or so.Keep stirring and adding flour until the dough is still slightly sticky, but it doesn’t stick to your hands in any significant way.

Lightly cover counter or tabletop in flour where you will knead the dough. Knead for about ten minutes. To knead, take the dough, punch it flat, then fold it back up into a ball again, and repeat several times. You can also squeeze and twist it.

After ten minutes, shape it into a ball and place ball of dough into presprayed or buttered bowl. Cover bowl with cloth and place it somewhere fairly warm for an hour (I turned on the heater and set it in front of the vent).

After an hour, your dough should be roughly double in size. Punch the dough down, then lay it out on the floured area and spread it out into a rectangle shape, with one side being roughly the length of the bread pan and the other side being about a bread pan and a half long. Then roll it up and tuck the ends in underneath. Cover with cloth again and let sit warm place for one more hour.

Then, place loaf in sprayed bread pan and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

Apple Cheddar Scones

Not a whole lot makes sense in life right now.
I've been feeling a little lost and confused when it comes to my future.
Those are really scary words. My future.
I have ideas, and maybe even some really big dreams, but I don't know how to make them happen.
And then there's always the money factor.
I'm already in debt.
How do I make big dreams happen when I'm in the hole?
I don't know. I don't know. I just don't know.

BUT what I do know is that these apple cheddar scones I made are of epic porportions and completely scream fall. Maybe life isn't making sense right now, but these scones def are.
When I found the recipe, I knew I had to make them that night. After work I went to the grocery store to pick up a few ingredients that I didn't have at home. I got apples and cheese and a fancy schmancy 4-pack of Eric's favorite beer and that's it. Scones and fancy beer for dinner makes sense. Eric understood (that's why I love him).

Apple and Cheddar Scones
(taken from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 6 generous scones

2 firm tart apples (I used granny smith)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 cup sugar plus 1 1/2 tablespoons for sprinkling
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt plus additional for egg wash
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes plus additional for baking sheet if not lining it with parchment
1/2 cup sharp (white) cheddar, shredded (I used Tillamook's Vintage Extra Sharp White Cheddar)
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs

Position a rack at the center of oven and preheat oven to 375 °F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Peel and core apples, then cut them into one-sixteenths. Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake them until they take on a little color and feel dry to the touch, about 20 minutes. They will be about half-baked. Let them cool completely. (You can speed this up in the fridge, as I did.) Leave oven on.

Sift or whisk flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. Set aside. Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, along with cooled apple chunks, cheese, cream and one egg. Sprinkle flour mixture over the top and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together. Do not overmix.

Generously flour your counter top and place the scone dough on top of it. Sprinkle with flour. Use a rolling pin to gently roll (or use your hands to pat) the dough into a 1 1/4-inch thick, 6-inch circle. Cut circle into 6 wedges. Transfer them to a baking sheet that has either been buttered or lined with a fresh sheet of parchment paper. Leave at least 2 inches between each scone.

Beat remaining egg in a small bowl with a pinch of salt. Brush the scones with egg wash and sprinkle them with remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake until firm and golden, about 30 minutes. With a spatula, lift them to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Baked Figs & Goat Cheese

Goat cheese. goat cheese. goat cheese. goat cheese.
I'm going on a goat cheese binge starting now. Who wouldn't want to do this?
I can't believe I just now thought of it.

Figs. figs. figs. figs.
What are figs? I have no idea, really, but don't they look neat?
And I've never used them so I decided I need to explore.
I remembered a little blurb I saw in a magazine a month or two ago about fig and goat cheese combo being super-mega YUM, so that's all I needed to know.

Playing around with a few ideas and recipes, I ended up with a beautiful and elegant, deliciously rich, appetizer and/or dessert that delivers a variety of tastes and textures. I honestly believe it is a masterpiece, if I do say so myself.
This recipe is so simple, but guaranteed to have your friends/family/guests 'oohing' and 'aahing'.

Baked Figs & Goat Cheese (with Honey Balsamic)

1 pint ripe black figs, halved
1 tablespoon (or so) honey
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Goat cheese (I used creamy chevre)
Walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk together honey and balsamic until evenly combined, then set aside.

Cut each fig in half and brush each half with the honey balsamic. Top with crumbled goat cheese and walnut pieces. Drizzle honey balsamic over goat cheese mixture.

Bake in the oven for 5-8 minutes, until figs are warmed through and cheese starts to soften/melt. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Linguine with Clams

Every year growing up, my parents would take our family on a vacation. We've been to fun places all over the United States and Canada, from Disney World to Whistler. I could probably write a pretty hilarious memoir about all of the ridiculous adventures we've had on family vacations and trips.
ANYWAY, a beautiful, relaxing and more local trip we've taken a few times, and my parents still enjoy taking, is to the Oregon Coast. Quaint cities like Newport Beach and Lincoln City (our faves) are sprinkled with little hole-in-the-wall fish n' chips and clam chowder joints. Dad and I both have a mutual love and tremendous appreciation for these two seaside "delicacies," so we made it our mission to track down the best of both!
We definitely tried more greasy, overly thick, beer-battered fish than I'd like to admit..and humorously enough, I think we've ultimately decided we like my dad's own cornmeal battered fish recipe the best! However, we did try several unique clam chowder recipes that would be hard to replicate! I think the Oregon Coast can boast some of the best clam chowder. My arteries are RE-clogging just thinking about this.
We also tasted some perfect steamed clams (in white wine, butter, and garlic - the necessities) while on the Coast, which my mom has been reproducing ever since! Lucky me! One night at the apartment I wanted to take mom's steamed clam recipe and transform it into a dinner entree (vs an appetizer). Served with toasted garlic ciabatta bread, this linguine with clams was light, filling, and so zesty/garlicky/yummy.

Mario Batali’s Linguine with Clams
serves 2

1.5 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 pound linguine
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I might try butter next time)
4-5 cloves garlic, 2 thinly sliced, 2-3 pressed
1 pound clams, scrubbed
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 (14-ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice, juice reserved and tomatoes coarsely chopped
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

In large pot over moderately high heat, combine 8 quarts of water to boil and salt. Bring to boil, then add linguine and cook to 1 minute short of al dente according to package directions (pasta should still be quite firm).
Meanwhile, in large sauté pan over moderately high heat, heat 3 tablespoons extra- olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add garlic and sauté until just golden, about 30seconds. Add clams and half the red pepper flakes and sauté 1 minute. Add wine, tomatoes and juice, and 1/4 cup parsley and simmer, uncovered, just until clams open, 7 to 8 minutes.
Drain linguine and add to pan. Simmer, tossing occasionally, until linguine is just tender, about 1 minute. Add remaining 2 tablespoons parsley and red pepper flakes, tossing to coat. Transfer to serving dish and serve immediately.

Apple Crisp

I have a sad, but serious confession.
I'm demented and have major issues. Major.
It all started when I was just a little kid. In school when teachers would ask my parents something important they should know about their daughter, the answer was always the same: "Ms. Teacher, Laura's a freak." Okay okay, they referred to me as a "perfectionist," but they/I know what I really am.
In elementary school, I would pull serious almost all-nighters working on art projects and pop-up books and "ME" posters. I would rewrite my papers if my handwriting looked ugly. Coloring and cutting and drawing and pasting....hours and hours of precision, people. What ten year old cares if their cutting looks too jagged?
As the years went on, these issues translated into my hobbies and sports and everthing I did and tried. And now, I hate to admit, I'm even a whack job in the KITCHEN. Stand next to me as I'm chopping or dicing or julienning anything, and I promise you'll want to grab the knife out of my hand and stab me with it. BUT I bet you will never see more evenly and beautifully diced produce!
You know how most recipes have a prep time? Yeah, those don't apply to me. I have to add like an extra hour.
So how does this relate to my glorious apple crisp? I had to PEEL and CORE and CUT SIX BIG APPLES! Normally I can deal with my time-consuming ways, but whoa, even this was too much for me. Don't they make apple peeling machines? I need one stat.
At least I can say all my time and hard work was worth it, because I made another epic warm, cozy fall dessert.
I'm going to go eat it all now (then I'll be weird AND fat). Kbye!

Apple Crisp
(recipe taken from Joy the Baker)

5 to 6 medium-size granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices. (About 7.5 cups)
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1.5 tsp cinnamon

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, well-softened
2/3 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)
1/3 cup quick oats

Preheat the oven to 350. Generously grease an 8×8 baking pan with butter.

Place a layer of apple slices in the bottom of the pan and dust with sugar/cinnamon mixture. Continue layering apples and dusting with cinnamon/sugar until done. Toss the apple mixture until evenly coated in cinnamon sugar. The apples should be just about to the top of the pan (they will cook down).

For the topping, place the flour, brown sugar, nuts, cinnamon and oats in a large bowl and stir well with a wooden spoon. Work the butter into the mixture with your fingertips until evenly distributed. Take one full handful of the topping and toss it into the sugared apple mixture. Spread the rest of the topping evenly over the apples. (I usually end up with a dough-like topping that I just lay on top of the apples).

Bake the crisp in the dish on a baking sheet on the center oven rack until the topping is crunchy and the apples are bubbling, 55-60 minutes.

Serve hot!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Elysian Brewing Great Pumpkin Beer Festival

What better way to celebrate the fall season and end our ULTIMATE Beer Weekend Extravaganza than by attending the highly anticipated Pumpkin Beer Festival put on by local Elysian Brewing? No better way! Plus, after Saturday my beer belly was in full bloom, so why not add to the inevitible growth? (I will do something about it THIS week, seriously.)

So what is this beer festival all about, anyway? Dressing up festively (oh yes we did!) to celebrate beer and try crazy-unique seasonal concoctions!
For those of us who are nuts about pumpkin (ME!), this festival offered around 50 different pumpkin brews: from Porters and Stouts, to Malt Liquor and ciders or Hefeweizens, this place had it all! Our entry fee included six tasting tickets, but Eric and I got away with seven since a few stations didn't seem to be interested in taking our tickets. SCORE!

My number one choice from the day was Russian River's Sour Pumpkin 2010. "100% Brett fermented, barrel aged sour pumpkin ale." I tried my first sour ale at Kiss Cafe, Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour, and sours have since become my personal preference. I sampled a total of four sour pumpkin ales at the festival, but Russian River's blew the others out of the water. However, I must give credit to Jolly Pumpkin's La Parcela 2008, as it was also fab.

Runner up is definitely Iron Hill's Ichabod Imperial Belgian Pumpkin Ale. "This extra strong spicy Belgian is filled with flavors of harvest including clove, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg with hints of roasted pumpkin and caramel." Eric loved this one, too.

Due to the massive crowd of people trying to push and shove their way to the center of the grounds, the highlight of the festival seemed to be the tapping of the "Great Pumpkin" itself. This huge pumpkin was filled with still-fermenting beer, sealed with wax from candles and allowed to condition until the tapping at 4:00pm on each day of the festival. Our pumpkin was filled with the sweet and cinnamony Dark o' the Moon and everyone gathered around and waited for a taste from the coveted squash.

Overall, MY punkin and I thoroughly enjoyed the festivities and brewskies.
Basically, this sums it all up:

I need to detox. And diet.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

I'm so excited to recall mine and Eric's ULTIMATE Beer Weekend Extravaganza!

First, let me preface.
About a year ago, when Eric and I first moved to our new apartment in Ballard, my parents came up to help move us in. After an afternoon of moving and hauling, we went exploring down the street for a tasty lunch spot. We first wandered upon Portage Bay Cafe, but since they were only offering breakfast at the time, we decided to pass and that's when Kiss Cafe Beer & Wine Bar fell into our laps.
It was love at first sight. This adorable little cafe, with only about 9-10 small tables, and a long bar with high stools, boasts a large beer cooler, (with 99 constantly rotating microbrews and a wide variety of other beers and ciders) a great espresso area with lovely coffee AND a menu loaded with salads, sandwiches and wraps and soups (aka. all I really need in life).
This cafe is the absolute perfect spot to have right down the street. That first day we were there, Eric and I talked about how we wanted this place to become "our place." You know, that place. . . the one that you walk into and the owners go "Heeyyy Laura! Heyyy Eric! Welcome back! What beer can we get ya today? Oh, and would you like your usual sandwich/soup combo, Laura? We're on it! We love you!" That was our (my?) goal.
After numerous times of going there to eat our way through their menu and enjoy many of the Pacific Northwest's microbrews they offer, we discovered that Kiss Cafe is the home of the "Ballard Drinking Team." On January 29, 2011 Eric and I set out to become official members.....AND ON SATURDAY OCTOBER 8, 2011 (after 5 beers - don't worry, I drank these over the course of six hours) WE FINISHED OUR LISTS! WE DID IT, WE REALLY DID IT!!
Eric is member #154 and I am #155 and proud of it, ya'll! When we finished they rang a cowbell and announced to everyone their newest members and made us feel like rockstars. Then they bought us ANOTHER BEER. Holy microbrews! I held up like a champ, for reals.

The challenge/rules: to drink 99 DIFFERENT beers in one year. One of those beers must be a Rainier Tallboy (hahaha!) and one must be a hard cider.
Sidenote: When I drank my Rainier, I was given the can in a beer cozy. It was totes one of my favorite moments.

Each time we finished a beer, we got signed off by an employee. AAND when we completed the list, we became members of their exclusive drinking team! This now entitles us to our very own, personalized beer glass kept at the cafe, discounts on beer, and really fun member events. Our first member event is going to be their Annual Pumpkin Carving Contest, which includes seasonal beer and food and fun!

Eric and I started off on a strong note - we were gung-ho and determined with a capital "D." When I would tell myself we only needed to finish 99 beers, it didn't seem like THAT much. Ain't no thang but a chicken wang? UMMM YEAH RIGHT. I thought this challenge would never end! I'm not saying I didn't love every moment, but holy shit, toward the finish line (like the 70 beer marker), I just wanted more than anything to be D-O-N-E. Well, now I am!
I'm amazing, I know! Thanks.

PS. Remember when I said bring me pumpkin anything and we'll be best friends? Well, (since I'm now a beer snob and everything) bring me a light domestic beer and I'll throw it at your head and laugh at your injuries. Whoa. Too much? Sorry, I'm kidding. (Kinda.)


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stuffed Bell Peppers

If I find or hear about a recipe for "stuffed" anything, I'm already sold. Crab stuffed mushrooms? Done and done. Stuffed tomatoes/zucchini? Yes please, sign me up. Chocolate stuffed strawberries? (Seriously, forget DIPPED!)Ohhhhhh my god. Stuffed peppers? Don't mind if I do. In fact, let me tell you about those...
My fabulous mother introduced me to the wonderful world of stuffed peppers. First off, when I say peppers, I'm referring to bell peppers. And, in my opinion, the yellow, red and orange are the best to use for this recipe, as I find them to be much sweeter than green and compliment the other flavors in the recipe quite nicely.
Mom's signature pepper recipe calls for the ever-so-flavorful Italian sausage, Spanish rice, vegetable and spice medley (utterly delicious). I however, love to take recipes and add, subtract and multiply. The results equal a healthy, delicious AND filling/satisfying dinner. THAT equals pure love, my friends. No lie.

Laura's Stuffed Bell Peppers
(estimated measurements - no exact recipe)

Yellow, Red, Orange Bell Peppers, tops removed and seeded
1 box spanish rice (I like to use Near East over other brands)
1 can (14.5 oz) diced, no salt added, tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 package lean (93/7) ground turkey
1/2 onion diced
1 cup chopped button mushrooms
1 cup diced zucchini
2 cloves pressed garlic
tomato sauce for topping
salt and pepper, to taste
italian seasoning, to taste
crushed red pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Prepare spanish rice as directed.
Boil prepared peppers in large pot on rapid boil for 10-15 minutes, or until soft.
In a large skillet add olive oil over medium heat. Cook the ground turkey, onion, mushrooms, garlic and zucchini until brown and tender. Season with Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper or seasoning salute. Stuff the peppers with the skillet mixture and top with tomato sauce.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes.

Aren't they gorgeous? Yeah, how you like dem apples? (and by apples I mean peppers.)
Go make them. NOW.

Pumpkin Pie Bars

I love/adore/go completely crazy over fall. It's my absolute favorite season. I love the holidays, the colors, the smells, the flavors, the crisp air, the cozy days and nights. Fall is gorgeous and tastes amazing.
I just bought Eric and I tickets the Elysian Brewing's 7th Annual Great Pumpkin Beer Festival in Seattle. I am SO stoked! Pumpkin beers (some of them actually brewed INSIDE of a pumpkin), local food trucks (major YUM!), adorable souvenir pumpkin glasses, and everyone dresses in pumpkin attire! I need to go find something orange, stat!

(Photos courtesy of Beer Festival website - Elysian Brewing)

On another exciting fall note, my two favorite cupcake places in Seattle have some fantastic-sounding flavors of the month I can't wait to try. Trophy Cupcakes: "We're celebrating Washington's Apple Harvest and National Caramel Month with our newest seasonal flavor, Caramel Apple! The cake boasts local, organic granny smith apples and warm fall spices topped with housemade caramel infused buttercream, toasted pecans, and a drizzle more of homemade caramel." I'm kind of freaking out that sounds so amazing.
I'm sitting on the couch right now all bundled up in a blanket, drinking hot spiced tea and thinking about gorging on the PUMPKIN PIE BARS that I just pulled out of the oven. Does it get any more fall than that? Oh, did I mention a pumpkin spice candle is burning on the coffee table in front of me? Told you I'm obsessed.
Back to pumpkin pie bars.
Um, yummy heaven, right?
Growing up, pumpkin desserts, especially pumpkin pie, never really appealed to me. I think it's because I have vivid memories of my mother baking a pumpkin pie every year for Thanksgiving, taking big bites and chewing a few times, and then before swallowing, she'd show me her lovely colored mouthful of chewed up pumpkin pie and say, "Look! Baby poop!" Yup...
Well, I believe enough time has passed now for me to get over that trauma, because I can never wait until pumpkin season arrives. Bring me a pumpkin dessert and we'll be best friends for life. Thank you.
This recipe is, once again, from my homegirl Joy the Baker..and she's done it again. Total success. AND! I used my new and beautiful standup mixer! Double success!

Pumpkin Pie Bars

1-1/3 cups flour (I use unbleached all purpose white flour)
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided (organic, brown granulated sugar)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) cold butter or margarine (unsalted)
1 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats, uncooked
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened (I used fat free)
3 eggs
1 can (15 oz.) pure pumpkin
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons bourbon (optional)

HEAT oven to 350°F. Line 13×9-inch pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides; grease foil. Mix flour, 1/4 granulated sugar and brown sugar in medium bowl; cut in butter with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in oats and nuts.

RESERVE 1 cup oat mixture; press remaining onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake 15 min. Beat cream cheese, remaining sugar, eggs, vanilla, bourbon, pumpkin and spice with mixer until well blended. Pour over crust; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.

BAKE 25 min.; cool 10 min. Use foil to transfer dessert from pan to wire rack; cool completely.

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